Addressing the MLB Playoff Reconstruction Debate

Jon AlbaCorrespondent IAugust 28, 2011

Bud Selig is set to enter his final year as commissioner in Major League Baseball.
Bud Selig is set to enter his final year as commissioner in Major League Baseball.

A few days back, Justin Cirillo of Not Another Sports Blog took a look at how Major League Baseball can successfully incorporate a new Wild Card system into their somewhat-controversial playoff system.

Amongst Justin’s points are the inclusion of a sixth Wild Card team for both leagues, a preliminary round between the two Wild Card winners (a best-of-three series), abolishing the 162 game schedule by reverting back to 154, re-aligning the seeds, amongst other nixes. While many of the points the author brings up are rather enticing, let me give my take instead.

1. Adding Two Wild Card Teams

This particular aspect of reconstruction I very much agree with. While normally not an issue, the playoff structure has been rather acute this year, as opposed to the ambiguity is normally possesses. On August 28, 2009, four teams were in contention for the American League Wild Card, while five were in the midst of battling for the prized spot in the senior circuit. This season, however, exemplifies the epitome of separation, with both current Wild Card leaders (Yankees/Braves) each holding a lead over the following squad by more than seven games.

Is this an issue that will normally present itself on a yearly basis? Hardly. Instead though, let us add in the extra playoff spot in each league. With this, immediately another four or five teams become eligible for the playoffs.

While I am a fan of keeping prestige and honor in the system, there is nothing wrong with 10 of 30 teams being allowed into October. With over 60% of the league still being shut out from the playoffs, little integrity is damaged. Not to mention, who’s to say a team like the Toronto Blue Jays, one with a plethora of talent but is confined by the difficulty of their division, couldn’t make a surprise splash?

What I Would Do

Add the two teams. Ultimately, it makes for more competition, and more fun (not to mention, the power of the almighty dollar). Not to mention, it makes winning the fourth spot (the standard Wild Card) much more important in terms acquiring home-field advantage for the first series.

2. The Preliminary Round

One of the difficult aspects in planning for an additional team per league in the playoffs is how to attack the initial round. Justin, amongst others, believes that it should be a best-of-three series, with the last team in getting Game 1 at home, and the “actual” Wild Card winner receiving Games 2 and 3 (hence, the importance of winning that initial Wild Card spot). The added games would then be compensated by the reduction of those in the regular season.

This method, I do not agree with. Let us first look back to 2007, where the New York Mets blew their large division lead and missed the playoffs. Had it not been for every single game during the home-stretch, history is altered. Therefore, all those games are necessary. As for the series, it would then extend the playoffs undoubtedly into November, thus rendering the season “too boring” by critics (if you don’t believe me, take a look at the World Series ratings over the past few seasons).

What I Would Do

Rockies vs. Padres. Twins vs. Tigers. Twin vs. White Sox. Yankees vs. Red Sox. All just a few of the unbelievable single-game playoff match-ups we’ve had over the years. The 163rd game usually ends up being one of the most exciting moments of the season (when it occurs), as both teams are fighting for their lives just one last time, in search of an opportunity to punch a ticket to the promised land.

With this, the Wild Card winner gets their rightfully-deserved home game as well, and while it would likely require for both squads to pitch their aces, could really shake things up on a grand scale. Fate has a funny way of working in sports, and the one-game playoff could work wonders with fate at its side.

3. Diminishing The Schedule

This aspect of the proposed changes I do not agree with. Not only would it require the overhaul of various records, but it would create the ultimate controversy of who should be glorified just because of the amount of games played.

As for establishing more commonalities amongst league opponents, I could agree with this. I do like the amount of divisional play, but at times it becomes over-abundant and some more games against other divisions could suit. Would it require for complete removal of the NL vs. AL play? Not quite. Though more league play could establish more track record for the playoffs.

What I Would Do

Keep the 162 games, and use the single-game playoff structure. That simple.Would more playoff games be fun? Yes, but ultimately too time-consuming.

4. Re-Aligning The Seeds

This one has been subject to much controversy over the past few seasons. Currently, it is set up so that the Wild Card winner and the winner of their respective division cannot face one another in the Division Series. This needs to change.

While I agree with many that the Wild Card winner should not be entitled to home-field at any point, it is also important to ensure they play the top-seeded squad, regardless of the division. For example, if Texas had the best record in the AL and Los Angeles was the Wild Card team, they need to play one another. It simplifies the system, and after all, baseball loves its divisional play, doesn’t it?

What I Would Do

Make sure that the Wild Card plays the best team in the league, no matter what. Many times the Wild Card winner (like last year with New York and Minnesota) will have a better record than the team they play in the Division Series. Where is the logic in all of that?

5. Home-Field Advantage In The World Series

Lastly, even though Justin did not touch up on this in his article, I feel it is very important to address this. So let me bold, underline, and italicize it:


Hear that Selig? Not the All-Star Game winner.

Sure, the little rule change in 2003 was a good way to reinvest some interest in the game. But what purpose does it serve in rewarding the teams who have earned their path to the championship? If Alex Gordon hits a game-winning double in the All-Star Game to seal the deal for the AL, yet the Phillies put up a 125-win season (obviously hyperbole), how can that be justified?

What I Would Do

There is no excuse for this. It is imperative home-field advantage be given to the team with the better record in the World Series, regardless of their league’s All-Star Game outing.

Final Thoughts

Obviously, there is much that can be done with the MLB playoff system. Justin is a buddy of mine, so I thought it would be good to give a look at my perspective of it. What do you guys think about my proposed changes? Interact with me @sportfullcircle on Twitter, or email!

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