Playoff Expansion the Right Way

Let me also say that, while I agreed with the strategy, watching the Yankees and Rays basically coast through the last month of the season to a playoff berth they’d basically locked up in August was pretty boring, even for a hardcore baseball fan like me. I can only imagine what it was like for casual fans. So something that increases the value of winning your division seems like a pretty good idea to me at this point.

The problem I have with the proposal is making the two wild card teams play a best of 3 series before the divisional round. Frankly, that doesn’t punish the wild card team enough for my tastes, and in fact might even help the winner of the series. Given the likely layout of the schedule, the winner would still be able to use their best 3 starters primarily in the LDS, and would be fresh and in rhythm while their next opponent will have sat around waiting a whole week to play. WE’ve seen that play out in years past, and it generally isn’t a good situation for the “rested” team. So the idea of adding an entire extra round doesn’t sit well with me.

What I’d prefer to see is a one game playoff between the two wild cards for the right to go to the ALDS. First and foremost, this has the benefit of leaving the current format mostly unchanged. In short, it’s basically no different than what we saw in 2007, 2008, and 2009. It would also punish the wild card teams, as not only would their season hang in the balance of one baseball game, but they’d have to use their best pitcher as well, leaving him unavailable until at least game 3 of the ALDS. It would, in other words, be a real detriment to the wild card teams, and create a strong incentive to push for a divisional crown if it were in reach.

Consider 2010 for example. Under Bud Selig’s proposal, we’d lose the only races that mattered at the end of the year, as the Giants, Padres, and Braves would all have been assured of playoff spots. Under my proposal, however, the Giants and Padres would still have fought for the NL West crown, so as to avoid a one game playoff with Atlanta, and the Yankees and Rays would have done all they could have to avoid facing Jon Lester and the Red Sox in a one game playoff situation. So even though we’ve increased the number of “playoff” teams, we’ve also increased the incentive for winning your division, likely creating more dramatic baseball at the end of the season. After this season, I think that’s probably a good thing, so I’m on board with an extra wild card, for now, provided the wild card round is single elimination, not best of three.

Born in Southwestern Ohio and currently residing on the Chesapeake Bay, Brien is a former editor-in-chief of IIATMS who now spends most of his time sitting on his deck watching his tomatoes ripen and consuming far more MLB Network programming than is safe for one's health or sanity.

6 thoughts on “Playoff Expansion the Right Way

  1. Jason@IIATMS

    Sorry, I completely and utterly disagree: adding another wildcard does nothing but further dilute the importance of the 162 game season. After 162 games, if you haven’t proven you are one of the top teams in the league, tough tooties.

    Hate it.

    • Brien@IIATMS

      Well I'm not sur about that. Right now there's no real downside to winning the wild card. The only thing that even remotely works out as a negative is not getting home field advantage, but there's no real home field effect in playoff baseball. And so I think you can see things like what happened this year, which I think really diminshed the importance of the regular season.

  2. JP.

    I can't wait for the Wild Card Round. Game 1 – Thursday night (travel day Friday, off day Saturday). Game 2 – Sunday night (travel day Monday). Game 3 – Tuesday night.

    The NL Wild Card round would then start the following Thursday…

    I mean, is there anyway MLB goes with a 3 day schedule for a best of 3 wild card round?

  3. Larry

    Most teams and fans that don’t want their season to boil down to a single game don’t understand that they’ve already accepted turning their season into a (slightly lesser) crapshoot with a playoff system anyway. However, since nobody seems to want the single game playoff, then give them the 2-of-3 but do it this way:

    (1) No rest day after the wild-card series is over.
    (2) Game 1 in stadium of wild-card team with worse record or tiebreaker(s).
    (3) Games 2 & 3 (if necessary) as a double-header the next day in other stadium.
    (4) (Optional) No rest day after the final day of the season. Just start the wild-card series the next day

    This allows for the extra wild-card AND the 3-game series, while penalizing the wild-card teams the most and keeping the division winner opponent waiting the fewest number of days.

  4. Thomas

    I don't see what's wrong with the NBA's playoff system. It makes sense. Flukes get eliminated.

    In fact, if we could make a hybrid between NBA and NFL, that would be perfect. 162 games is a lot of games. I think the top (1 or 2?) team(s) should get a bye, the other 4 teams in each league play a 3 or 5 game set.

  5. forged

    I understand what MLB is after by expanding the playoff field, but as others mentioned, the real trade-offs are two-fold:

    1) You risk diminishing the importance of the regular season, which becomes a larger factor once you allow more teams into the playoffs.
    2) In baseball in particular, having multiple rest days between series sure seems like a determent significantly more often then it helps the team that had the rest.

    So if they can avoid #1 and #2, then I'm okay with them trying to drum up more revenue for the playoffs. However, in the other sports there is a lot less emphasis on the regular season accomplishments based on the number of teams that make the playoffs.

    The flip side of this is purely: How many games are enough? 162 regular season games plus a playoff system that stretches out to a month is a long baseball season as it is. When you factor less than ideal weather for spring and fall baseball for a large set of the baseball teams, it makes you wonder how effective adding more games into the picture will really matter to the bottom line.

    When the Colorado went to the world series and were outplayed by Boston, I was wondering if they were going to have to deal with games being postponed due to snow. (The weather cooperated, but that is not always the case as Denver has had snowfalls in late September before.) It is also something they deal with in the beginning of the season which is why the Rockies typically don't have a lot of home games early in the season.

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