Bigger playoff picture better?
Expanded baseball postseason presents more flaws to MLB
For generations, only two teams made it to majorleague baseball’s postseason. Only they didn’t call it the postseason then, they called it the World Series, just to keep things simple.
In 1969, baseball added the League Championship Series and the playoffs expanded to four teams. In 1995, with realignment to six divisions and the addition of wild-card teams, it became eight.
Now, with Bud Selig’s plan to add two more wild-card teams as early as next year, it will be 10. At this accelerated rate of change, according to the trend line on a fairly complicated and time-consuming line graph I created in Microsoft Excel exclusively for the purposes of this sentence, baseball will have 24 teams making the playoffs by the year 2100.
Of course, that’s the slippery slope argument raised by baseball purists, not that I know any of those. Soon, they reckon, baseball will be worse than the NHL when it comes to sending both the best and most of the rest to the playoffs.
Yet, somehow Selig has managed to avoid the wrath of traditionalists. That’s because, even though he’s expanding the postseason, he has counter-intuitively appealed to them by making a first-place finish more meaningful.
Well played, Bud. Well played.
With the one-game playoff between the two wild-card teams in each league, Selig has added an extra postseason game (more revenue) and made sure more teams are in the running for a postseason berth (more revenue).
But he has also added a huge advantage to the team that wins its division. Unlike now, the wild-card teams won’t enter the playoffs on an even footing with the division winners. Two of the four will be out after just one game.
Selig points out the one-game knockout will also create some drama, which is his way of acknowledging that in the Twitter age, not everyone’s attention span can survive through a seven-game series.
Of course, if you want drama, a cynic might wonder why you wouldn’t take the one-game wildcard knockout even further. You could play the 162-game regularseason schedule and then start the playoffs with a challenge-format, knockout tournament starting with the last-place team in each league playing the 14th-place finisher. The winner of that game would play the 13th-best team and so on up the ladder until there was one team left to play against the division winners.
That would set up 11 one-game playoffs in a row. How’s that for drama! Once a generation, a lastplace team might even run the table, starting from last place and climbing all the way to the World Series, and a syrupy made-for-tv movie would be commissioned.
For now, though, because it’s only an incremental change and will create some dramatic moments, the new playoff format will likely be regarded as a success. However, before we send Selig off to resolve more difficult quandaries, like the crisis in Syria or Demi and Ashton’s crumbling marriage, he still has a few problems to fix in baseball, some of which he just exacerbated.
By moving the Houston Astros to the American League West in 2013, Selig has balanced the two leagues at 15 teams apiece. There’s some mathematical symmetry to that, but it means that interleague play — which once upon a time happened only in the World Series, I remind you kids out there — will now happen almost every day of the season.
Selig is being applauded for evening the six divisions at five teams apiece, but there’s a bit of flawed logic to the idea that winning a six-team division is more difficult than winning a four-team division. Would it have been any harder for Usain Bolt to win the gold medal in the 100 metres if two additional people were running behind him?
What baseball officials are really saying is that it’s harder to sell tickets if you’re in sixth place than if you’re in fourth.
Now interleague play will happen throughout the playoff races, right down to the last weekend. Theoretically, the Yankees and Red Sox could be battling for first place on the last day of the regular season and New York could be playing an American League East Division rival such as the Tampa Bay Rays while Boston has an interleague game against the Colorado Rockies. That could diminish the quality of some races.
It also connects to another problem Selig hasn’t solved. Thanks to the unbalanced designated-hitter rule, depending on whether the game is in Colorado or Beantown, the Red Sox pitchers might have to bat.
How long can baseball continue to operate with different rules in different cities? Imagine the NHL playing some games four-on-four and others five-on-five or the NBA having a three-point line in some cities and not in others.
Selig and the owners are apparently close to another labour deal with the players. It’s a safe bet the DH rule won’t be addressed in it, but, until it’s resolved, no matter what clever moves are made to expand revenues, baseball’s playoff races and post-season matchups will continue to be flawed.