10/09/15 by Matthew S. Vandriak
You work all season long to labor through 162 games. You finish with one of the top 3 records not just in the National League, but in all of Major League Baseball. And your reward? To play another of the top 3 teams in MLB with your entire season hanging on one game. Sorry, but count me as one of the people who feel it's time to do away with the current Wild Card format in baseball.
There was a time back in the old days of MLB, you know those ancient times known as the early 1990's, when only 2 teams made it to the post season in each league. That's where the term pennant race came from, because each division champion won their respective division's pennant before facing the other division winner in the league championship. That was replaced in 1995 when MLB went to 3 divisions instead of 2 and introduced a wild card team into the post season mix. That was a good idea. To have 30 teams play 162 games and only 2 making the playoffs was kind of ridiculous.
But just as ridiculous is the fact that a team's season after playing those 162 games comes down to 1 game. The one game Wild Card, or 163rd regular season game as I like to call it, is in no way a playoff. It's one game. That was exciting when 2 teams were tied after the regular season, but it's not in anyway a playoff.
The Wild Card needs to be changed. Either its time to go back to just 4 teams per league making it, or increasing the Wild Card round to a best of 3 games. And since it's highly unlikely MLB would go back to having less teams in the post season, it's time to make the Wild Card more than just a game and into an actual series.
The argument against making the Wild Card a best of 3 is that it isn't fair for a division winner to have to wait that long for their next opponent. That by increasing the Wild Card to a 3 game series that somehow those teams are being rewarded for not winning the division, which is part of the reason why the extra team was added in the first place. OK, I see the point, but here's the thing. Increasing the Wild Card from 1 to 3 games doesn't have to benefit the teams in it.
How about if there was a best of 3 series played over 2 days? The top Wild Card teams gets to host a doubleheader, and if necessary, the 3rd game is played at the 2nd place Wild Card team's home field the next day. The divisional round series would then start the 2 days later at the top seeded division winner's home ballpark. If anything that rewards the division winner by giving them a few more days off and home field the day after the Wild Card series ends. In the NHL, the reward for winning a playoff series quickly is that you get some rest before the next round, especially if the other series goes to 7 games. So the top division winner would still have home field, get additional time off, and be rewarded by having a team who just played 3 games in 3 days come into their ballpark. I don't see how that rewards a Wild Card team in anyway while in anyway punishing a division winner.
The current Wild Card format needs restructured. Having your entire season come down to 1 game is not a good way to do things. Pittsburgh was the top National League wild card team the past 3 years. They had the 2nd best record in MLB this season. In the past, they'd have to open on the road against the top division champion. Instead of having the chance to play an actual series, they've lost in 1 game the past two seasons and had to use their top starter prior to the start of an actual playoff series. The 1 game Wild Card punishes a team much more than a 3 game series would. Even though you would have to play more games in a short period of time, you would have your top starter back by the beginning of the next series. Not having your ace puts a team at a huge disadvantage right now to start the divisional series, more so than playing 3 games in 3 days does.
The idea of expanding the post season is a good idea for MLB, but the way it's decided now isn't. With this format, baseball is the only of the four major sports to have teams win a round without winning an actual round. It's time for baseball to make the Wild Card round just that, an actual series that justifies a round, not a one game play in that diminishes what a team worked 162 games to accomplish.
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