National Post (Latest Edition)
Let’s see how silly baseball’s new playoffs can get
Wild Card round renders season meaningless
It is time for some full disclosure: I have a rooting interest in the Major League Baseball playoffs that begin Tuesday.
It’s not that I’m rooting for any particular team, or against one. I’m rooting for chaos. Madness and upsets. I want to see the big-market, big- money juggernaut that is the Los Angeles Dodgers, who won 70 per cent of their games this season, turned aside in two quick games by a Milwaukee Brewers side that never once made it to the .500 mark.
I want Daniel Vogelbach, shaped like a fire hydrant, who was dumped by Seattle midseason and spent a glorious two weeks with the Toronto Blue Jays before he was waived and picked up by the Brewers, to smash game- winning homers off Clayton Kershaw.
I want the Reds and Marlins to win, and the Yankees to be done by Thursday and maybe even the Astros, after slumbering through a 60- game schedule in which they really didn’t seem to want to be there, to suddenly remember that they are good at baseball and go on a tear that would give MLB commissioner Rob Manfred fits.
I want the next week to be utterly ridiculous. And then I want Manfred and MLB to admit the folly of this playoff format and fire it, metaphorically, into the sun. Or the sea. Just as long as it is dead.
When the plans for the 2020 season were madly thrown together in the spring, it wasn’t worth getting too fussed about the specifics. Sure, 16 playoff teams was a hilariously big number in a sport that, not that long ago, used to have 25 per cent as many post-season entrants. But MLB was already twisting itself in such knots to have any baseball at all in 2020 — playing barely a third of a full schedule, introducing seven- inning doubleheaders, putting runners on base in extra innings — that the expanded playoffs were just another goofy element to this goofiest of seasons.
But almost immediately came word there is serious interest in having an expanded playoff field even if and when baseball’s regular season goes back to normal. It is, and this is saying something in a sport that has had a deeply embarrassing cheating scandal and cannot seem to control the aerodynamic properties of its balls, a spectacularly dumb idea. Which I suppose makes it more likely.
Last winter, I proposed killing the playoffs in baseball and other leagues. It was obviously never going to happen, but the point was that leagues had morphed into sports with a long and mostly meaningless regular season, followed by games that were finally important. This argument of mine won such favour that leagues across the continent are doing the opposite.
The NHL expanded its playoffs for 2020 and may continue the larger format. The NBA added a play- in game wrinkle, and the NFL added an extra wild- card team in each conference. But it is baseball where the playoff expansion was the biggest — and the silliest.
The playoff field went from 10 to 16 teams, and more significantly the Wild Card games were replaced by a whole Wild Card Series — all 16 teams, each involved in a best-of-three series. The Dodgers and Tampa Bay Rays, each comfortably the best team in their respective leagues, get zero benefit from that accomplishment. Each will play in a best- ofthree tightrope act, just as they would have done if they squeaked in as the last wildcard team.
Again, there’s little point in bemoaning the fairness of this since the sample size of a 60- game, heavily unbalanced schedule was so small and meaningless, but having something like the Wild Card Round at the end of a normal season would be bizarre. Had this season’s win percentages applied to a 162- game schedule, the 115- win Dodgers would be about to play the 78- win Brewers, and would be out of the playoffs if they lost twice. The 108- win Rays would be about to play the 85- win Jays, with the same stakes.
Playoff baseball is already notoriously fickle, with games that swing on the tiniest of margins, so there would be little incentive for franchises to invest in building a deep and talented roster if all that would get you is the possibility of a two-day playoff run that ends at the hands of a plucky upstart with a hot starter or a dangerous bullpen. What’s the point of winning 110 games and punching your ticket to the Coin Flip Round?
So, let’s do this. A Brewers-astros World Series, and we can agree to never speak of these playoffs, and this format, ever again.