As Bud Selig and MLB consider expanding the playoffs, it comes time to evaluate the current playoff system to determine whether it is the optimal approach. Naturally, the way the final month went down was a huge plus for the four-team playoff system. If there were a fifth or sixth team out there, the drama would have been virtually zero.
However, that argument by itself is not compelling. There have been other seasons were there would have been drama under those formats, but there was none because all four spots were sewn up easily. Unfortunately, the craziness of this September will remain forefront in our minds and therefore clouds our judgment.
Yet, there are concerns about the wild card having an unfair advantage (or a lack of a disadvantage) in the playoffs. They simply open with the team with the best record in a best of five series. As people say, anyone can win a five game series. The NBA and NHL use an eight-team playoff. That is ridiculously high, so the NFL is really the only comparison. Would MLB be better served by adding two teams to each league's playoff and giving teams like the Phillies a bye?
Wild card Pennant winners: nine out of 32
Wild card Division Series Winners: 16 out of 34
In other words, the wild card winner has beaten the number one seed almost half of the time. That doesn't seem right, but it's something you have to go over twice to see for yourself. If the Cardinals manage to win the NLCS they will be the tenth wild card to advance to the World Series. Compare that to the Wild Cards in the NFL since 1995 and see if the same is true.
Only six wild card teams have advanced to the Super Bowl since 1995. We are talking about a league that has a 16 game schedule. Teams are frequently separated by a single game in the standings. In some cases, a wild card team may have been 12-4 or 11-5. Both records would dwarf even what the Phillies did in this season.
Since 1995, only two teams have won the World Series while winning more than 100 games in the regular season. Twenty teams have won 100 or more games since the wild card was instituted in 1995. Therefore, it would seem that the surest way not to win the World Series would be to win 100 or more games in the regular season.
Therefore, the powers that be need to decide whether they want to reward excellence in a long and grueling regular season or if they want give Cinderella a helping hand. Currently, Cinderella seems to have the upper hand. However, there is one simple solution that Bud Selig could do to give teams like the Phillies a bit of an advantage.
If Bud Selig is known for anything, it is trying to infuse drama into any proceedings. He made the all-star game count when it shouldn't have counted. He added the wild card when some 100-win teams couldn't get into the playoffs. Now, he wants to add a fifth wild card in each league. Why five? Well, you have a one game playoff at the end of each season. What could be more dramatic than that?
The problem is that when drama is artificial it feels forced and ceases to be dramatic. When was the last time you were sitting on the edge of your seat to see which league would get home field advantage? I'm guessing never. Yet, if he added two wild card teams, he could set up a similar playoff structure as the NFL.
Cinderella would still have a chance, but teams that win in the regular season would get a bye into the second round. They could set up their playoff rotation without much effort. They could expand the divisional series to seven games and leave the wild card series at five. A seven game series favors a deeper team.
This obviously would make the postseason about a week and a half longer. From here, MLB could be creative. They could start scheduling double headers again like they did in the old days. They could push the beginning of the season back to the end of March and cut back on Spring Training. They could also return to a 154 game schedule. Either way, if baseball wants to reward regular season success, they need to expand the playoffs.