Not so wild card: Why baseball playoffs water down product

09/10/14 by Mike Catania



Maybe I'm in the minority with this one, but I don't like Major League Baseball's current playoff format. I understand the purpose of adding another team.  Baseball is a very long season, 162 games from April to October to be exact.  Before 1995 there were only two divisions in each league, and only the four division winners made the postseason. 
That made for a lot of meaningless baseball. 
So when MLB went to the three division format with the three winners and a wild card team in each league making the post season, it was a stroke of genius.  The number of playoff teams doubled, and you didn't have to win a division to make it to the postseason. 

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So besides division races, you also had a race amongst the second place teams for the wild card.  I liked it.
Unfortunately (as what seems to be the case in both college and professional sports) the "if it ain't broke, we'll still try to fix it" approach was taken by MLB.  So in 2012, an additional wild card team was added to each league.  The premise being adding another team to the postseason would add excitement to the regular season and the postseason.  And of course it creates more revenue as well.  So the one game playoff "series" between the two wild card teams was added.  Sorry, but I haven't felt the excitement.
First of all, it's not really a playoff series.  The wild card is one game.  Before the three division format, if two teams tied for the division title, they had a play in game.  If teams were tied for the wild card, they had a play in game.  To me, this additional wild card game feels like an attempt to fabricate the excitement the play in game generated.  It's like a 163rd regular season game, not a postseason game. 
Secondly, if a team is leading in the wild card race for most of the regular season, they deserve to play in a playoff series.  All of what that team did during the season shouldn't be decided in a one game "series".  Any team can have a good night.  And of course, any team can have an off night.  Having a wild card team ensured the best four teams made the playoffs.  It ensured the best second place team got their chance in the postseason.  With the one game format, you may not get the best four teams in actual playoff series, because one game doesn't necessarily decide who the better team is.  It decides who the better team was that night.
Third, that one game actually hurts the team that wins it.  The two wild card teams are going to start their number one pitcher,  which means if you win, your staff ace won't pitch again until Game 3 or 4 of the next series. So the "winner" is already at a disadvantage to start the actual playoff series.  And because it's a must win situation, managers may also have to lean heavier on their top middle relievers as well, which alters the strategy on who can be used and for how long in Game 1 of the actual playoff series.
Now I doubt that MLB will take away the additional wild card teams given the additional television revenue generated.  But I still think 10 playoff teams is too many.  And one game to me is not playoff baseball.  Take it back to four teams in each league with the wild card team playing the division winner with the best record, even if it's their own division winner.  But with the push in sports for there to be more teams in the playoffs, don't be surprised if more teams in MLB make the playoffs.  Which waters down the postseason more.  And makes a regular season that already seems too long, mean even less. 
Sometimes less is more, and in my opinion the MLB postseason is one of those cases.  

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