Of all the major pro sports leagues, Major League Baseball's postseason is the least valid at crowning a champ. This is for a number of reasons. There is good news, however. Many positive tweaks to the playoff structure have already been discussed. Time to shed light on just what is missing, and what actions should be taken.
Baseball season is by far the longest of any of the four major sports. Most teams, barring rainouts, will slog through 162 contests. Hockey and Basketball teams play 82 games in contrast. (In fact, even with half the number of games, NBA commissioner David Stern is considering a shortened schedule for his league.) It's a pretty large sample survey from which to judge the quality of a team. It's too large, in fact.
This becomes painfully obvious when you realize how quickly half the teams in the postseason will last. Imagine playing all those games and then getting swept in the first round after three games. All those must-win games, the pennant chase and the buildup. Gone after a weekend.
So one major flaw becomes obvious at this point. To be successful in the regular season, the team must be built for consistency. Pitching staffs generally need quality out of four or five starters, two or three set-up men and a closer. The lineup needs at least a few sluggers, high on-base percentage players and usually at least one speedster on the basepaths.
This is a recipe for long-term success, and after 162 games, suddenly these important regular season qualities lose much of their value.
Once the first round begins, you can throw them out the window. It's a best-of-five series after all. Most of the time, the losing team will not even get a whole turn of their rotation. It would seem to me that the team built for regular season depth would not even get to showcase that strength. The criteria suddenly changes. Forget a deep 5 man rotation, a three man rotation with 2 star hurlers will get you further.
Doesn't it seem a little too quick to send a playoff team home after five games at most?
It's even worse when you consider how many upsets have taken place. Don't get me wrong, upsets are what gives sports their luster many times. Upsets are not as exciting if they are so easy to come by. In baseball, too many times the fan is left feeling cheated. Many exciting and talented teams have been sent off to the golf course without even getting a chance to play everyone that contributed during the year.
There is a way to ease this issue. Make every round a seven-game series. Obviously there are some logistics to work out in that case. I will get into that a little further down.
The NHL and NBA already have implemented this structure. And in those leagues, the same players compete every night. If any of the sports had an argument for a shortened first round, it would be them since you are essentially showcasing the same matchup multiple times.
In baseball, there are completely new pitchers each day. It makes for a different feel for each game. And in the current format, there are only eight playoff teams. That means that first round matchups are never duds on paper, since even top seeds vs. bottom seeds have more parity than other sports with double the teams in the postseason. That's why baseball doesn't get redundant in October.
Another issue that troubles me is how the rotations are set. If your team is still fighting for a playoff spot in the last few games, they will most likely not be able to give themselves the matchups they want when the postseason arrives. Many people have argued that teams that have clinched earlier should get that advantage. Let's take a closer look.
This year, the Rays and the Yankees fought for the AL East crown to the wire. These teams also had the two best records in the league. It doesn't matter if the Rangers clinched their weak divisions much earlier; the two best teams still had work to do.
Why should the Rangers, who had a weaker record in a weaker division, get the advantage of setting their rotation while the two higher quality teams in a tougher division could conceivably be stuck with whoever is rested enough?
This would not be such a significant factor if the first round became a best-of-seven, as all of the pitchers would most likely get a chance somewhere in the series. There should be a three-day break before the playoffs begin. That will allow all of the teams to load up and truly play the best against the best, rather than just who is available each day.
A guaranteed two or three-day period between further playoff series should be instituted as well, for the same reasons. Obviously, as it currently stands, there would be scheduling conflicts. If these changes were in place, any other off-days that aren't designed for travelling should be eliminated. That way, the teams cannot just skip pitchers. It would be a lot more like the regular season for which these teams are built.
Changing the season from 162 games to 154 would be the best catalyst to make these sorts of improvements. People always have a little hesitation when this idea is brought forth. Most of the time they are concerned about the record books and how to judge new achievements. It would be a pretty safe bet to say that if there were only 154 games in a season, then Barry Bonds could feel really good about keeping the home run record.
But that's just the point. Many of those records are tarnished anyway. Bonds was an obvious steroid case, as well as many others in the last 20 years. We are now at a point in baseball where we need to be honest with ourselves and admit that all records are subject to fallacy.
Babe Ruth hit 60 home runs in only 154 games. Remember that many felt Roger Maris was a fraud since his 61 homers came in 162 games. There is just is no consistency. Once baseball moves on from this naive notion, things can be streamlined.
With only 154 games, there can be a pause to transition from the regular season to postseason. While pitchers are resting up, Major League Baseball can use the time to build some serious media hype. Imagine all those Game 1's with staff aces facing off against each other. That's drama. They will also be available for at least another game if the series goes long. Another plus. More superstars equal more ratings.
Baseball is a sport whose outcomes many times are affected by inches. Sometimes the difference between a winner and a loser can come down to a lucky bounce. The more games that are played with the most consistent preparation are a better measure of who is deserving of the title.
Don't worry though. Upsets will still be plentiful. The only difference (with the new rules in effect) is that upsets will seem much more significant. To grant a much higher degree of validity to the World Series Champion, these changes would go a long way. After that maybe we can get rid of the designated hitter as well, since both leagues should play by the same rules (especially in the playoffs). But for right now, this would be a major improvement.
** Here is a General Sports Story putting to rest who is the MVP of Chicago sports: Jonathan Toews Vs. Derrick Rose, A winner is chosen **
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