Image courtesy of Major League Baseball
Sean Nash and Jimmy Cavanaugh have no problem taking opposite sides on a variety of sports-related topics (don’t believe us? Check out their Friday radio show or one of their podcasts…). This week they debate whether or not baseball made the right call in changing their playoff setup.
What do you think? Did MLB make the right decision, or should they have gone in another direction?
For the first time since 1995, Major League Baseball has made changes to its playoff format. Many of these changes have been met with criticism from fans and media alike, saying that the addition of teams devalues making the playoffs. On the contrary, I feel that the new playoff system actually increases the value of the regular season. With the 162 game seasons, teams are given ample opportunity to win enough games to qualify for the playoffs. One could easily argue that a team that does not win the division has no right to be in the playoff. But from 1995 through 2011, wildcard teams were treated in the exact same way as division winners.
Of the 34 teams to represent the wildcard in the old format, 18 made it to at least the League Championship Series. So more than half of the number one seeds in a given league failed to make it past the first round of the playoffs in the wildcard era. The point being that the MLB’s regular season value took in a nosedive in ’95 when the majors went to 3-division leagues and the wildcard was virtually forced into creation.
What is the harm in expanding with the addition of two more teams? With the new system, wildcard teams are required to take an extra step more than division winners to advance in the playoffs, as it should be. It puts the wildcard teams at a huge disadvantage as they are forced to make a decision; use their ace in the one-game playoff, or risk not putting their best stuff on the mound and could find themselves sitting at home after just 9 innings of playoff baseball. If the winning club of the wildcard playoff does use its’ ace, the turn around to starting the Division League Series is too quick for the number guy to rest up and start game one.
The other major change of this year’s playoff system is that now the lower seeded team hosts the first two games of the Division Series. Again, with the quick turn around from the wildcard playoff, the wildcard winner does not have its ace at home at during the series. This gives the higher seeded team an obvious advantage in the series, as just one win away from home gives them control of the series. Even if the lower seeded team is able to steal a game from the better seed at home, the former has no opportunity to carry momentum back to their place.
Finally, fans have argued that Major League Baseball has destroyed the opportunity to witness a final day of the regular season like 2011 produced. (For those who need refreshing; the Rays defeated the Yankees, while the Red Sox completed an epic September collapse allowing the Rays to take the American League fourth seed. The Cardinals and Braves entered that same night tied for the National League wildcard. The Cardinals went on to defeat the Astros and the Braves lost to the Phillies giving St Louis the wildcard spot. The Cardinals would go on to defeat the Rangers in the World Series.) On the contrary, bringing more teams into the playoff mix is nothing but positive. Instead having just two teams battling it out for the final playoff spot in the season’s final week, we could see years where three, four, or even more teams could still be in the wildcard hunt 155 games into the year.
If you are still questioning the playoff system, look at what has happened thus far. All four Division series went the full five games, already producing classic moments such as the Yankees Raul Ibanez’s homeruns in the 9th and 12th innings of game three versus the Orioles.
Do not let my counterpart Jimmy Cavanaugh’s comb-over fool you; his flowing hair wants nothing but for the hate to flow through you. Embrace the new MLB playoff system. Do not go to the dark side.
Major League Baseball has made some waves this season by changing its postseason format – adding a second wild card team for each league and throwing in an extra one-game playoff series for some added excitement. Based on the results of this year’s postseason, the suits in the MLB front office has to be pretty happy with the decision at this point.
I’m not so sure that I am.
I can understand where the league is coming from. On the final day of last year’s regular season, the Rays and Cardinals snuck into the playoffs while the Red Sox and Braves consummated a pair of dramatic collapses. All the while, a record number of people tuned in and watched. It was fantastic theater and baseball did what it had struggled to do in years previous: steal attention away from the NFL. Fans of the Red Sox and Braves watched in trepidation; fans of the Rays and Cardinals watched in anticipation; and far more neutral parties than usual tuned in to choose sides and watch the games play out. The last day of baseball’s regular season – normally a nondescript slate of games – was the must-see event that day. The league office even said that the drama and attention that the final day of last season featured was the chief catalyst for making such a swift change to the postseason setup.
This is actually one of my main problems with the change.
Baseball – while it may still be America’s pastime – is no longer America’s favorite sport. Where MLB dominated the United States sports landscape as recently as the early 1990s, football has now relegated baseball to a virtual tie with the NBA for second place. MLB obviously has a vested interest in boosting its relevance any way it can, and so opted to go with the new playoff system to draw as many eyeballs as possible to the sport in October, the month baseball used to absolutely own.
The whole setup seems gimmicky to me – a cheap ploy attempting to manufacture the organic drama we saw at the end of last season. Part of what made last season special was that it was so profoundly unusual, and fans embraced that. What happens when the magical becomes mundane and the thrilling finish that we saw last year becomes an integral part of the baseball postseason?
The early reviews have been favorable, but then that’s not surprising. In the first year of the new system, it makes sense that fans have taken to a more exciting brand of postseason, but it’s a slippery slope. The past two decades have seen baseball make more changes in the playoff system than it had made in the century previous.
It seems to me that baseball realizes its declining relevance. The NFL took a stranglehold on the American sports landscape during the MLB strike and has yet to give it back. The NBA is locked in a dead heat with MLB when it comes to popularity and boasts many more marketable, dynamic stars. The one thing that sets baseball apart from its competitors is its tradition, and with all the changes to the playoff picture, baseball is putting itself in position to compromise even that. For decades, baseball needed not adjust itself to fit public tastes, people just watched. Their recent decision-making belies that.
The new system is exciting, but it’s gimmicky and I believe changing the playoff format has the potential to hurt baseball in the long run.