Why the MLB Wild Card Playoff Format is Good for Baseball

Why the MLB Wild Card Playoff Format is Good for Baseball

When Major League Baseball announced its new format for Wild Card teams in the first round of the playoffs, like many, I was not sure if I approved of the change or not. Allowing two teams to earn Wild Card spots, then setting them against each other in a one-game playoff, seemed rather arbitrary. Why double the Wild Card spots to ensure a one game playoff?

Surely commissioner Bud Selig was interested in the recreating the drama that unfolded at the end of last year's regular season; one day in which a number of playoff seeds would, or could, be decided, along with the extra revenue that comes with an extra game, or more. Profits, and cheesy recreations of actual drama, were my initial reactions to this new format, but yesterday it became clear to me how much I approve of this new format.

Certainly the Baltimore Orioles and the St. Louis Cardinals approve of the new system, after each won their respective Wild Card games yesterday, but why should the fans like it? My reasoning does nothing to negate the drawbacks of the new system: surely profit is still the main reason for the change, and the drama is now predictable- there is no wondering "IF" there will be a game 163 for two teams; there simply will be. However, there is a pretty hefty silver lining.

Essentially, the old Wild Card slot has been devalued- and it should be. Many of the critics of the new format point to the era before three divisions, before the initial Wild Card spot was instituted, as the glory days. The best two teams from each conference in each league battled it out in the Championship series for the chance to play in the World Series. Then, everything got shifted: three divisions, with a winner from each, and the team with the next best record earned a spot as the Wild Card. But why should that team even make the playoffs?

Fans of the two-division format should appreciate this new system. If a team does not win its division, it should not make the playoffs. I am fine with that, and assume most people can appreciate that logic. However, with three divisions in each league (and you know MLB will not be changing that anytime soon), a fourth playoff team must be incorporated somehow. Instead of simply awarding the team with the next best record the Wild Card spot, this new format makes earning that final playoff spot even more difficult- and it should be.

The only sure way for a team to make the playoffs is now, once again, winning its division. If a team fails to do that, it may still have a chance, but will have to win a tough, and unfair, game in order to do so.

Baseball is a marathon. Over the course of 162 games, more times than not, the best teams come out on top. For this reason, the seven-game playoff series attempt to give the deepest team the advantage in the series, to mimic what the regular season proves. Many believe that the five-game Divisional Series should be stretched to seven games for this very reason, but that is another debate entirely.

What we know is that the Wild Card teams are NOT the best teams. A one game playoff does nothing to mimic what the regular season shows us. It does nothing to ensure that the better of the two Wild Card teams will make the playoffs, but why should it? These teams were not good enough to win their respective divisions, so why should they have a "fair" (as in a three, five, or seven-game series) chance at the playoffs?

The fantastic part about MLB's new Wild Card format is that winning a division has once again been emphasized.

"You want a playoff spot without winning your division? Ok- just beat this team in one game, and then we will allow you to enter the playoffs against the best team in you league. Good luck." This will only become more interesting in seasons where we have more than two teams earning Wild Card spots, in the form of matching records, tie-breakers, etc. Earning the Wild Card spot could literally could turn into its own mini tournament. Great- let these inferior teams wear themselves out scratching and clawing to claim that final spot.

Rest assured that fans will still see Wild Card teams making and winning the World Series in years to come. This system simply makes it harder for them to do so. The new system does decrease the value of the one Wild Card spot we've been used to in recent history, but that spot should be devalued. Winning a division is once again much more of an advantage than winning the Wild Card, which had been debatable under certain circumstances in years past.

I hate admitting that Bud Selig may have done something right for baseball, but I think he did. At least we can believe that he enacted it for the wrong reasons and, essentially, stumbled upon a positive outcome in the process. Back-handed kudos to Mr. Selig. Barring some unforeseen outcomes or possibilities, I believe this new Wild Card format to be a wonderful adaptation; one which increases the sanctity of playoff baseball.

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  • I'm certainly not the only person who decided enough was enough and walked away from baseball because of the extra wildcard. It's just the last straw, imo.

  • Why was that the last straw for you?

  • As my grandfather would say, "That's a bunch of Hogwash!"

    The league that has the lowest percentage of teams making into the playoffs, they should expand the number of teams that make it. I'm not suggesting going to the NBA or NHL scheme of only having to be better than half of your conference. I disagree with the 1-game 'pre-playoff-post-regular-season' garbage. A team has a better record than a Division winner, the winner of their own Division clinched the division in game 159, and you say they don't get a Fair shot at going deep into the playoffs. I believe the best of seven series was designed to get the best team (in depth) to move on. Any team can have a bad game, but to lose a 'best-of' series, the other team was better(not.. my #1 pitcher is better than yours).
    This additional Wild Card Team is nothing more than the worst Commissioner, of any sport, trying to put his opinion ahead of the game.
    1. The winner of the All Star Game gets home field in the World Series?
    What happened to the meaning of trying to get the Best Record?
    2. A Conference with 16 teams and the other with 14?
    I almost forgot that Selig is forcing the Astros to the AL in 2013. Why did Milwaukee come out of the AL then?
    3. Ordering the Astros to play 'home games' in Milwaukee against Chicago?
    4. This year's playoffs give home field advantage to whom?
    The 1st games are played at the away team?
    5. Does it seem to anyone else that the decisions he makes are for the benefit of his pockets?
    As if the $19M he will get this year from the owners isn't enough?
    6. Let's not even talk about Strike Season of '94.

    These barely scrape things Selig has done to corrupt and spread the gap between his office, the owners and the players. He is, and has been during his entire tenure, awful. Goodell and Stern look alike geniuses.

    You are correct with winning the division has lost some of its luster. Get rid of the World Series Home field from the All Star Game. Creating more elaborate schemes to cover up the bad decisions made in the past doesn't fix anything. Admit the idea was bad (we tried it; it didn't work) and move on. The people of Real Character admit their wrong. They learn from it.

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    I think there is one major flaw in your argument. The team leading the wild card isn't necessarily a mediocre team. With the division system, the top team in the NL, let's say the Phillies could win, 100 games in a season. The second team in that same division, the Nationals, could win 99 games, or even 95, games that season. The other two division winners, the Reds and Giants, could each win around 90 games that season. In this scenario, could you say that the Reds and Giants are better teams than the Nationals, even though the Nationals won 5-10 more games.

    I understand that there should be some emphasis on winning your division, since you do play a lot of games against those teams (76 per season). However, you still play 86 games outside of your division. It makes no since to put a division winner over a non-division winner even though they've won less games.

    It is, like you said, all about money, which is why I think this is bad for Major League Baseball. The fans don't benefit from MLB making more money. The fans want a fair shot for all teams and for the teams that do well during the regular season to have an advantage in the playoffs. Fans don't like seeing all of these rule changes that are only in place to create drama and make money. The best drama in sports is the drama created by the teams and players, not by the league.

  • Either get rid of it or make it a three game series. As Alex was saying, some wild card teams end up with better records than divison winners, therefore can be considered better teams. It's not their fault they were in a stronger division. I can go on and on, but all-in-all I don't like to see teams fight for 162 games, then have it taken it away in an instant (e.g. Texas, who choked the division away yes, but was clearly better than Detroit all year, but had no time to recover from a dismal end of season and was ousted in a one game playoff).

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