Fixing a Flat Finish: What MLB Must Do To Make September More Intriguing

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Fixing a Flat Finish: What MLB Must Do To Make September More Intriguing
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There is no professional sports league in which it is tougher for a franchise to reach the postseason than Major League Baseball. Making the postseason in baseball is a true accomplishment for any team, even for the Yankees and their $206 million payroll.

In baseball, just eight of thirty ballclubs reach the postseason each year. In the NHL and NBA, more than half of the 30-team leagues are vying for a shot at a trophy when the regular season comes to an end. Reaching the playoffs in the NFL is a tougher task with 12 of 32 teams reaching the postseason.

This is what makes the MLB playoffs so great. Every single team left in October is a legitimate contender to win it all.

The NBA playoffs begin every year wasting two weeks of our time by matching up .500 or below .500 teams with 60-win clubs while David Stern hopes a 4-5 match-up will create enough drama to keep fans interested.

While “Cinderellas” do occur in the NFL and even the NHL, they are uncommon and rarely result in a championship.

The NFL has had just five wild-card Super Bowl champions in 40 years of the wild-card’s existence. The worst regular season record of these five teams was 10-6 by the ’07 Giants, so it was hardly a Cinderella story. The fact that the G-Men beat the 18-0 Patriots was what made the G-Men Cinderellas.

The Stanley Cup Playoffs has seen the eight-seed take down the one=seed seven times since the playoff format changed in 1994. Even with that unpredictability, the lowest seed to ever hoist Lord Stanley’s Cup was the fifth-seeded New Jersey Devils in 1995.

In baseball, there are no Cinderellas.

Sure a team such as the ’08 Tampa Bay Rays were considered Cinderella-esque, but not once they got into the postseason. The Rays won 97 games that season, beating out a 95-win Red Sox club and an 89-win Yankees club to reach the postseason and claim home-field advantage throughout the AL playoffs. Once in the playoffs, the Rays had as good or better shot than anyone to win the whole thing, and almost did, losing to the Phillies in the World Series.

My point is that every team in the MLB Playoffs is a legitimate contender to win the World Series with the current playoff format.

I love everything about the current MLB playoff system, that is, come playoff time.

MLB does a great job of making their playoffs as exciting and dramatic of month that one can have in pro sports, but what about the stretch run?

September is supposed to be the month where the average sports fan comes out of his summer hibernation to see division races and pennant chases.

Not anymore.

Football is king in America, and sports fans could care less about watching the Yankees and the Rays battle for AL East supremacy, knowing the loser will be joining them in the postseason.

With football on television five nights a week, Major League Baseball and commissioner Bud Selig have got to do something to spice up September, while at the same time keeping the postseason packed full of true contenders.

One option that has been discussed over recent years is to add an additional Wild Card team to the mix in each league. Adding an additional Wild Card team to each league would certainly heat up September baseball and create a more dramatic end to the season.

“The problem you have,” Selig said, “is the schedule. You know how I feel about [playing into] November. So I’ve often said that if the clubs want to cut back to 158 games or 154, then we have the option to do a number of things.”

There have been two ideas on ways of doing this without playing the World Series during Thanksgiving.

The first idea is “October Madness”. “October Madness” refers to a one-game playoff at the end of the regular season between the two Wild Card winners to see who will make the eight team tournament.

A one game playoff will likely never come to fruition as there is too much on the line for one game to determine a team’s postseason fate. If “October Madness” was in effect this season, the AL match-up would be between the Yankees/Rays loser and a Red Sox club that is currently seven games out in the East. It just wouldn’t be fair to match up the Red Sox with one of these clubs and allow the Sox to overcome a seven game deficit in just one day.

The second option that has been discussed throughout the baseball media has been a three game series between the two Wild Card clubs. A three game series will extend the postseason by only four or five days and prevent a team from being eliminated by one poor pitching performance.

This is the most effective way to create drama in September without damaging an almost perfect playoff format.

If this system were in place today, the Rays/Yankees series this past week would have been must-see TV as opposed to simple bragging rights and a banner at Tropicana Field.

If the Yankees and Rays were playing with this format in place, they would be playing for practically a bye in the first round of the playoffs. The difference between the winner and the loser would be huge, and even Tropicana would be seeing sellouts as if it were the World Series.

A 162-game schedule limits the possibility of dramatic division races every year in September. With an additional Wild Card team, more teams are in the hunt for the postseason for a longer period of time. That means not only more drama and uncertainty in September, but more money for the TV networks and owners as meaningful games will be played much deeper into the season.

As much as I hate change and think the MLB playoffs are just fine the way they are, something has to be done by Major League Baseball to make September more exciting. Additional Wild Cards is the only way to get this done.

Football is king in America and will be for a long time to come. No matter what baseball does, football ratings in September will continue to dwarf baseball ratings in the one month that’s supposed to determine the baseball postseason. This can only be improved with the addition of more playoff spots.

The playoff system is currently fine, but it has to be marketable. It’s hard to market a postseason during a time when, frankly, very few are interested. September must become relevant again and this seems to be the only solution.

-scf

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