Expanding MLB's Playoff Format
Mmm, I don't like it.
Here's the basis; Tom Verducci at SI.com writes an article suggesting a way to improve Major League Baseball's playoff format and add some revenue. He has an excellent point that recent "win or go home" games have drawn outstanding viewership and the lack of these nail biters have hurt baseball.
Although the former has evidence only in that the National Football League is a behemoth and Major League Baseball is simply puttering along. I'm not sure if Verducci follows the National Hockey League or not, but the Stanley Cup has went the distance in four of the last seven seasons, yet they aren't doing too hot.
In fact, the NHL Finals have gained little (if any) ground on the NBA Finals despite being drastically more dramatic (the NBA Finals have went seven games only four times since 1988).
Verducci states that teams are content simply making the playoffs in Major League Baseball. Whether factual or not, this is not really a big deal in my opinion given the home field advantages (albeit small) provided to teams.
While Verducci points out that the Rays may sit their staff ace in a potential division winning game at the end of the season, it's tough to blame the Rays for wanting David Price available to pitch at least twice in the first round of the playoffs.
Further, with injuries being apart of any sport, it's smarter to keep your best pitcher available for the playoffs rather then risk him getting hurt for home field advantage.
Verducci suggests an idea which I totally disagree with. He suggests that MLB open up two wild card spots instead of the current set up of one per league. He sets up a situation where the two wild card teams play a play-in game, where the winner goes onto the playoffs and the loser goes home.
What this would do is create more meaningful games as teams further down the pecking order would still have a shot at the playoffs. To me, there isn't anything really wrong with this basis and it's tough to argue against making baseball more competitive in September. But that's it.
Verducci writes, "I have a hard time thinking of a down side to this system." His rationale for said statement is, "It rewards division winners and penalizes second-place teams."
Okay, that is fair, and Verducci brings up an example of the 2005 Houston Astros who were far out of contention as early as May 7th.
But here is where I disagree. We are giving lesser teams a ridiculous breath of air. Anything can happen in a single game and while this game may have encouraged a few better games on the last day of the season, we could conceivably hurt the playoffs by allowing, for example, the Boston Red Sox (leaving history out of the picture) into the playoffs.
That is, the Yankees and Rays are the two best teams in baseball by a fairly significant margin.
I'm sure the Rays would prefer to win the division, but they certainly aren't going to kill themselves to get in. They are currently seven games ahead of the Sox and a vastly superior team (owning a +123 run differential to the Sox +68).
Verducci is then suggesting that we potentially kick the second best team in all of baseball (inexcusable) out of the playoffs for a good, not great team in the Sox.
Worse yet, while this system would give the Rays something to play for if they were tied with the Yankees on the final day of the season, what does this do to the fifth ranked team?
A team like the current White Sox, who are out of the playoffs but if the season were to end today would have nothing to play for on the last day, win and they are in, lose and they are in (the wildcard playoff that is).
In fact, I would argue that the Rays would be likely to sit Price on the last day of the season anyways, as they would want him for the more meaningful game against the ChiSox. That is, on the last day of the season, if tied with the Yanks, their destiny isn't even in their own hands. Whereas against the ChiSox, it would be.
Verducci isn't wrong to ask the question of how we can improve the playoff format and the last week of the season. He is wrong, however, to suggest a one game playoff. Using the NFL as a barometer in this scenario is not appropriate as the sport is vastly different. The NFL, for example, never uses a "best of" playoff format.
This then leads to the question of how MLB can improve the playoffs and the end of the season. One area I have always been a proponent of is not allowing any division winners into the playoffs based solely on their standings in the division.
Some years this may be unfair as one division may be particularly strong, but even in that scenario, if we go by Verducci's logic, "just win" and you have nothing to complain about.
For example, this season the American League would be represented by the Yanks, the Rays, the Twins, and the ChiSox, the four best teams in the league. This would satisfy Verducci's desire for more meaningful and competitive games.
It would make more teams eligible down the stretch as we would have a team like the Jays sitting six games out of the playoffs instead of 12. That would give us four teams fighting to make the American League bracket instead of one.
In the National League, things get even better, where we have three exciting races only involving two teams. My suggested playoff format would invite an additional two teams into the playoff picture.
How would you change Major League Baseball's playoff format without watering down the competition? Keep in mind, making more teams eligible, while adding the excitement of March Madness, doesn't always add excitement to the final and could potentially water it down.
That is, while the wildcard has been a good addition, remember the throttling the ChiSox gave the 'Stros in the 2005 World Series.
I personally like the way things are, I would just like to see an additional bonus for the best team in the league. For example, in Japan, the best team only has to win three games to win the series whereas the underdog has to win four. In Korea, the league winner sits out the first two rounds of the playoffs.
Verducci, you have some good intentions, but your comparisons aren't accurate. Baseball is not football, and nothing is the NCAA Tournament. Don't waste your time trying to make baseball like those two events.
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