Sunday, October 9, 2022


Amongst those who follow baseball, we may well be in the minority with with what follows...but it's our view that the new first round approach demonstrates a series of flaws that work against the earlier efficacy  of baseball's post-season.

All credit to the Padres, Phillies, and Mariners for going on the road and winning their series: the flaws we'll describe are not due to their performances, which were exemplary. The problem is that the new approach makes it possible for more wild card teams to go later into the post-season than was the case before. 

"Whaddya mean we haven't got a new playoff scheme?
Let's do it right here, right now!
We need to remember that the teams in the post-season are not equal in quality according to their won-loss records in the regular season. Therefore, if wins matter and divisions matter, then it should be harder for the teams with fewer wins and/or the wild card teams to advance in the post-season. That is not how things are set up in the new approach to the post-season, however. For the first time in history, there is a chance that two wild-card teams could win up playing each other in the championship round as well as in the World Series.

Of course, we've had two Wild Card teams play each other in the World Series: it happened in 2002, when there was one wild card team vs. three division winners per league. (In that season, the Anaheim Angels, who ultimately won their first and only World Series, had a better record than several of the division winners; there were no teams with 85-90 wins making it into the post-season that year.)

The point is that we now have a much greater likelihood of wild card teams going deep into the post-season. Baseball is following the lead of basketball here, and swapping out overall quality in favor of greater quantity--more post-season games.

All of which creates an odd case of overkill--and that's what manifested over the weekend, with the possibility of twelve post-season games occurring over a three-day span. Is there such a thing as too much excitement? 

The other problems have to do with the three-game series. This format has never been used before, save for the old NL pennant playoff approach. It is a clunky mechanism travel-wise, and MLB knows it--which is why they opted for the "NCAA seed" approach that would give teams with more wins a much greater home field advantage. (Of course, that notion went up in smoke this year, with three teams prevailing on the road in the first round.)

There is something neither fish nor fowl about this format, however, that seems supremely unsatisfying. Interesting and hard-fought match-ups in the post-season that don't get a chance to develop cheat both the teams and their fans. The Cleveland-Tampa series was fascinating in its minimalism (despite Joe the Poser's carping that it shows how "pitching is too good") and under best-of-5 rules would have put the Rays in a do-or-die game at home for the Game 3 that wasn't allowed to exist. Making the playoffs should reward the home-town fans with at least one game--but baseball took this away when it put in the "do or die" game in the most recent post-season variant. And they've still kept it "in play" with their new approach.

Similarly, the Mariners would have had a chance to win their series against the Blue Jays at home after winning two on the road. 

Too harsh an assessment for Rob "Bozo" Manfred? 
We leave the judgment to you...
Part of the problem here is MLB's inherent greed about scheduling as many single games as possible, which drags the schedule out in most years so that the playoffs do not start right at the beginning of October. If the 2022 season could have ended on Sunday, October 2nd, a best-of-5 first round could be initiated. 

The objection to this, of course, is that might have given the top seeds too much time off. The idea of a "bye round" is inherently a bad one, however, since it can't cohere to both wins and divisional championships. Leave it to baseball to be the first major sport to create a system that befouls and befuddles the basic objectives of the game.

What are the alternatives? Baseball the business is not going to like the first approach we'll mention. If we have to have three wild card teams, then rank them by wins and make the two teams with the fewest wins play that "do-or-die" game to get into the next "wild card" round, where they play the non-division winner with the most wins. In the NL this year, that translates into the Padres playing the Phillies for the right to play the Mets.

At the end of this chain of competition, one wild card team would join the three division winners for what has been the traditional (and, for once, at least, the logical) post-season approach.

There's still the matter of the second wild-card series, though. Is it another "do or die," or a best-of-3, or a best-of-5? To move things along, another "do-or-die" game has the most appeal here, but it creates the least revenue for baseball the business. 

Of course, there are more radical approaches, such as our notions discussed in previous posts, where the game expands to 32 teams, creates four leagues, and builds a more elaborate and flexible playoff structure. Or there's our old "mini-season" post-season, where all eligible teams play each other in a round-robin that leaves two teams standing for the World Series. (We're not going to tout those here now, however, as that would constitute our own "odd case of overkill"...)

The odds are high that we're stuck with this approach for the foreseeable future, however--absent any expansion. It will be interesting to see whether it manages to produce both a wild-card World Series and a wild-card championship series in the first round. Surely the Astros and Dodgers and Braves are not all going to go belly-up on us...or are they? Stay tuned...