Dave Cameron of FanGraphs keeps the playoff story alive in proposing yet another idea for "improving" baseball down the stretch. Honestly, it's not a terrible idea, although I'm not sure it will solve any current "problems" while not annoying certain fan bases.
To me, the bigger issue is that we are rewarding teams for winning their division under any circumstance. Take the Texas Rangers, for example. Here's a team that if divisional winners weren't given the golden ticket (a mistake in my opinion) would have JUST made it into the playoffs. They finished one game above the Red Sox and two ahead of the ChiSox, two teams that were eliminated with more then a week left.
One has to wonder what kind of "extra effort" those teams put in if they knew it was about win number 90 (a foreseeable goal with the Red Sox needing 15 and the Chi Sox needing 17 as of Sept. 1) instead of win number 95 (based on the Yankees and Rays pace as of Sept. 1).
Likewise, authors have made a stink about a lack of drama in the American League East, but what about the lack of drama in the American League West?
Sadly the 2010 season didn't offer a lot of last week entertainment. Most teams were more concerned about setting up their rotations for the playoffs and wondering where they would play their first round of golf rather then digging deep and making a run of things. But keep in mind that the 2009 season had a division winner crowned on day No. 163.
Wait, let's look at 2009 again.
Wow, if teams weren't put into the playoffs based on geographical boundaries, we could have has a VERY exciting end to the season. While the Yankees, Angels, and Red Sox were all locks to make the playoffs and had things all but wrapped up a week in advanced, look at all the teams that come into contention if they are shooting for the 86 wins that both the Tigers and Twins settled in with.
We'd have the Rays, who finished with 84 and had the two best teams in the American League in their division (can't blame a team for packing that in). We'd also have the Rangers, who with 87 wins would have been the class of the final playoff spot, possibly providing a little more oomph with leading a race rather then trailing by 10 games. And we'd also have the Mariners, who with 85 wins might have had a shot.
2009 offered a little bit of drama with the Tigers and Twins fighting it out and needing an extra game, but imagine if those imaginary geographic lines didn't exist? There would have been five teams fighting the last days of the season for one playoff spot.
Maybe 2009 was a special case, how about 2008? Same thing, the American League Central went down to game No. 163 while two nearly equal teams, the Yankees and Jays were out with plenty of time left in the season.
What about 2007? Not too much excitement. Although having 88 wins and chasing two 94-win teams has got to look a lot nicer then chasing a single 94 and another with 96 as the Mariners and Tigers had to do respectively.
Then there is 2006, where a 90-win team didn't make the playoffs, while in the National League, an 83-win team made the playoffs with an 85-win team dusting off their fairway woods.
All of this is to say that the wild card isn't the issue. The wild card is predominantly rewarding one of the top teams in the league for being a top team. Is it taking some drama out? Certainly! But think how ridiculous the old system was where a team like the 2009 Red Sox, the team with the third most wins in the American League, would have been sitting at home.
The system, as is, works. It's not perfect, but it works. I would get rid of the geographical lines altogether, as it isn't as if the players are riding buses or non-chartered airplanes.
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