Major League Baseball took a big step backward yesterday with the addition of the second wild card in each league. The prevailing idea seems to be that the most exciting scenario in sports is a do-or-die game, so why not guarantee yourself two? Football is immensely popular with its one game playoff system, and baseball’s highest ratings come out of game 7’s and game 163’s, so this seems like a good idea, right? Not in the slightest and here’s why.
The playoff system that will be in place for 2012 and the near future will now include 10 teams, 5 per league, with the division winners automatically advancing to the Divisional Series, and the two wild cards left to battle it out in a one game playoff to win the right to face the #1 seed. Part of the idea seems to be that both teams in the wild card game will be forced to use their best pitching to advance, and the benefactor in this situation is the team who finished with the best record, who will be able to set their rotation up for the highest possible chance to advance to the Championship Series. The system is also designed to reward teams as much as possible for winning their division, making division races important instead of the laughers they can turn into. Particularly in 2010 when neither the Yankees or the Rays seemed particularly interested in winning the AL East and facing Cliff Lee’s Rangers in the first round. Bud Selig, Commisioner, saw the last couple years of division races and decided to go overboard.
This new playoff system seems specifically designed to reward the division winners and prevent situations where the two top teams in each division know they are making the playoffs, so each team rests all their best players down the stretch. This maneuvering allows teams to keep their pitching fresh and rewards each team for having an excellent season and finishing head and shoulders above the rest of the league. Now conceding the division to rest your players would be considered suicidal by most fan bases, because in baseball even the best teams win about 60% of the time, meaning a one game playoff between two competitive teams has the odds of a coin flip. Selig has decided to place the emphasis of all of baseball entirely on the divisions he created, because by winning a division any MLB team gives itself a much greater shot at winning the title.
Another overwhelming flaw in the new system will probably occur in the upcoming season, when a team locked solidly in 3rd place gets a shot at squaring off against a team that beat them handily for 2nd over the course of the regular season. Looking back at the previous 10 seasons, 4 separate times a one game playoff would have occurred involving a 2nd place team and 3rd place team separated by 5 or more games within the same division. This is completely ludicrous. Why should a 95 win team, who was just edged out for the division title, be required to go against a team that they have beaten soundly during the very long and extended regular season? If we look at some of the teams it includes the 2010 Red Sox(who were 6 behind the Yankees), the 2009 Giants (4 back of Colorado), the 2008 Yankees (the only Yankee team to miss the playoff since ‘95 and trailed Boston by 6 games), and the 2006 White Sox (5 back). In fact, in 2001 the 102-win Oakland A’s would have been required to play the 85-win Minnesota Twins, despite an insane 17 game difference between the two! Baseball has always been the American game that places the most emphasis on the regular season, but now, not so much.
Everything about the system only become more unfair when considering that often the wild card winner also finishes with the second or third best record its respective league. The 2010 Yankees, 2008-09 Red Sox, the 2008 Brewers, and many more all would have finished 3rd or better and been stuck in a 4th place game. In what world does Bud Selig think this makes sense? The new wild card system would have rendered the fantastic night of 162 irrelevant as well. Tampa Bay, Boston, St. Louis, and Atlanta all would have rested their players and geared up for the one game playoff, reducing the most dramatic night of baseball ever to an afterthought. The new system was created to give baseball more excitement but it will more than likely take it away and frustrate fans of winning teams to no end.