Cleat Geeks

Solving Baseball’s Playoff Dilemma

nl_centralFor the second time in three seasons, the National League Central is the talk of changing something that at one time was sacred in baseball – the playoffs.

The old cliché “if the playoffs were to begin today” has the NL Central would have the top three records in the entire National League. St. Louis currently leads the division with the Pittsburgh Pirates in second and the Chicago Cubs in third. The downside to this is the Pirates and Cubs would face each other in a one-game playoff with the winner facing the Cardinals in one of the two National League Divisional Playoffs.

The same scenario didn’t exist in 2013 with the top three teams in the NL Central having the best record in the League, but Pittsburgh and Cincinnati battled in a one-game “wildcard” playoff at PNC Park. The Pirates beat the Reds 6-2 to advance to the NLDS against the Cardinals. St. Louis would go on to the World Series losing to Boston.

I have a love/hate relationship with the way Major League Baseball has the Wildcard playoff set up.

I appreciate the wildcard because it adds suspense to last month of the season even sometimes to the last game of the season. As mentioned the Pirates and Cubs are in the two wildcard spots with the next closest team being San Francisco, which is 3 ½ games out. The Giants are closer to National League West-leading Dodgers than the wildcard. The same holds true for the team in fourth place for the wildcard – the Washington Nationals, who are 9 ½ out of the second wildcard spot, but only 4 ½ out of first in the National League East to the New York Mets.

BAL-ORIOLES-vs.-TOR-BLUE-JAYSIn the American League, it would be a battle of the birds as the Toronto Blue Jays and Baltimore Orioles hold the two wildcard positions. There are six teams within five games of the Orioles for the second wildcard spot. Of those six teams in contention for the second wildcard spot, the Los Angeles Angels and Texas Rangers could still get in by catching the Houston Astros for the American League West division and skip the wildcard play-off altogether.

Since the wildcard has been added we have seen the added drama come down to the final week of the season. In a few instances, not only the final wildcard spot but a division crown has been on the line going into the final series of the season. This is what baseball wanted when it added the extra playoff and it has lived up to the expectation.

This is where I detest the wildcard – I can’t stand the one-game playoff. It’s up there with how much I abhor teams which get automatic bids for the NCAA Basketball Tournament and then have to play its way into the full field of 64. At this point to be fair I think it needs to be the best of three series. I know it would make travel logistics complicated, but at the same time in a one-game playoff too many variables can happen which could put one of the two teams into an unfair advantage or disadvantage.

My Solution

Major League Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred arrives for the National Baseball Hall of Fame induction ceremony at the Clark Sports Center on Sunday, July 26, 2015, in Cooperstown, N.Y. (AP Photo/Mike Groll)

Major League Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred arrives for the National Baseball Hall of Fame induction ceremony at the Clark Sports Center on Sunday, July 26, 2015, in Cooperstown, N.Y. (AP Photo/Mike Groll)

New Major League Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred has said he’s open to change on several different aspects of the game including the playoff structure.

Great, so am I, Mr. Commissioner.

First, I would do away with the divisions. Mainly because you have an odd number of teams in each league. Go ahead and keep interleague play, but drop the amount of regular season games from the current 162 to 154 or 148 games.

Lowering the number of regular season games would expand the playoffs without divisions to the top eight teams in each league to make the playoffs. The brackets would be set up similar to the NBA playoffs with the first round being the best-of-five series. In the next round like the NFL, the teams would be reseeded for another best of five series. The League Championship Series would still be best of seven and the winners meeting for the World Series.

I think you can do this and still keep the excitement of the final moments of the regular season. Despite knowing more than half the teams in each league make the playoffs there would still be plenty of teams not wanting to play out the schedule.

The leagues could go into the final week with several of these possible scenarios:

  • The top two teams in the league battling for the top seed and home field throughout the playoffs
  • Other teams, which have clinched playoff spots, clash for seeding. Imagine if the first scenario doesn’t exist but the seventh and eighth possible seed teams want to avoid the top team because they are far and above the best team that season.
  • Along with the second situation, what about a team in ninth place which could get hot the final week of the season and get to the final day needing the other team to lose to either take the final playoff spot or force a one-game playoff.
  • The suspense would also be there if two teams in contention for the final playoff spot happen to face each other in the final series of the regular season.
  • The small-market teams have even more chances to make the playoffs and if lower seeded teams could set up rotations right they could knock off one of the big-market boys in a short series.

I doubt we would ever see such a plan implemented by Commissioner Manfred, but it is something I think baseball should look at for the future of the game. Whatever solution Manfred and the owners would apply one thing is certain the excitement of the playoff chases will still keep all baseball fans interested up to the final day of the regular season. It will also make October and now even November even more entertaining and dramatic.

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