On Tuesday night, the MLB playoffs kicked off with what looked to be a great match up, Johnny Cueto and the Cincinnati Reds against Francisco Liriano and the Pittsburgh Pirates. In the end, the Pirates were able to edge the Reds 6-2.
Time for reporters to file into the Reds locker room, where Brandon Phillips will say something along the lines of “We’ll come out stronger tomorrow” or “this was just the first game.” But instead the Pirates are going crazy, popping bottles of champagne not too different from the ones a few Reds fans might use to drown their misery. Welcome, folks, to the new (as of 2012) MLB playoff format, brought to you by none other than Bud Selig.
Formerly, whichever team won the wild card in their league played the top-seeded divisional winner in each league in a traditional best of five series, while the two and three seeds did the same. The winner went on to play the winner of the other divisional match up from their league in a best of seven format, then the winners of both league championship series played until eventually the Phillies were eliminated and I stopped watching.
However, in an effort to infuriate more fans, Commissioner Bud Selig decided to change up the format which has existed since 1995 by adding a second wild card team to each league. This doesn’t sound bad until you discover that the two wild card teams play a one game play off to decide who advances to play the top-seeded team in their league.
In its inaugural year, controversy surrounded the questionable format. A pop up during an Atlanta Braves rally was called an infield fly and subsequently dropped by Cardinals infielder Pete Kozma. Thankfully, due to the questionable call by the umpire, Kozma’s blunder was ignored, the Brave’s rally was stifled, and their season came to a close.
This isn’t the NFL, and one game play offs should not exist, other than when a season ends with two teams with identical records. Under this format, a team could theoretically finish a season with six, seven, maybe 10 fewer wins than the first wild card team, make the play offs as the second wild card, edge out the first team in a 2-1 game and bam, divisional series here they come.
Anything can happen in a game. Aces like Matt Harvey, David Price, Yu Darvish and Clayton Kershaw turn in a few stinkers a season. Astros starter Phillip Humber threw a perfect game and finished this season with an ERA above six. Josh Reddick hit five of his 12 homers of the season in a two game span. If the Cleveland Indians can finish ahead of the Rays and be booted from the play offs because of a single game, perhaps Reddick should be named MVP and Humber Cy Young. I can accept that this is a stretch, but the fact that baseball is not a sport that should depend on one game remains.
How is it fair that after a full 162 game season, a single loss to a potentially inferior team should end your year? Why take a play off spot that was formerly guaranteed best of five series and make them play a one-and-done type scenario with a team whom they outplayed during the season? Why not make the series a best of three? Commissioner Bud Selig was asked very similar questions and responded with a mixture of responses that can be summed up with “time constraints” and “eh it’s not perfect.” We know it isn’t perfect, and neither are you Bud, you made that evident plenty of times throughout your career; but the one game play off for wild card teams definitely deserves a second look. A poll by the Los Angeles Times in early October revealed that two thirds of the voters answered “no” in response to being asked whether or not they like the current play off format.
While re-formatting the play offs is at least worth a second look, I can’t say I am completely against the idea of a second wild card team as a whole. It gives a team who otherwise would be sitting at home watching Pirates fans grab in-play balls at their first ever baseball game to experience the post season first hand. Not to mention the addition of a second play off team gives the Phillies a slight chance at making the play offs before my grandkids die.