Fixing The Failed Playoff Format


Back on March 2nd, less than a month before the start of this season, Major League Baseball announced a significant change to their playoff format which involved the addition of an extra Wild Card team per league.  Expanding the number of playoff teams isn’t problematic in and of itself, because the need to preserve tradition fell by the wayside years ago, with the increase in divisions, expansion of playoff qualifiers and addition of a third playoff round (Division Series).  The structuring of this year’s all-new format, on the other hand, is quite troubling for several reasons.

First of all, MLB made a grievous error by forcing the Wild Card teams to meet in a ONE-GAME playoff.  The NFL is the only major sports league which regularly employs single-game playoff rounds, and for good reason.  Each of their teams only play one game per week during the regular season (excluding bye weeks), because the intensely physical nature of their sport is far too demanding to enable a quick enough recovery for teams to take on their next opponent any sooner.
Baseball certainly requires physical exertion, but not so much that any more than a handful of off days need to be scattered throughout the course of a 162-game regular season.  That’s 146 more games than every NFL team plays each season – far too many to leave any MLB playoff team’s fate to a single game.

Of course, it could be argued that a precedent of sorts has already been set by the fact that MLB teams who end a season tied for their division lead have always determined playoff eligibility by meeting in a one-game playoff on the day after the regular season.  But that is necessitated by the fact that all subsequent playoff dates have already been finalized.  There simply isn’t a way to fit in anything more than a single game before the start of the playoffs.

This leads to the other major miscalculation made by MLB, which was waiting until less than a month before Opening Day to implement the new Wild Card round.  This supposedly “forced” them to change the Division Series from 2-2-1, with the higher-seeded team hosting the first two games, to 2-3, with the lower-seeded team hosting the first two.  They claim this is being done because there isn’t enough time between the Wild Card game and start of the Division Series to factor in the necessary travel required for a 2-2-1 structure.

Frankly, that is an invalid excuse for an unacceptable situation, even if it is just going to be a one-year anomaly.  This unfairly impacts the teams with the two best records in each league, which in all likelihood will include your Texas Rangers.  The Rangers were already victimized last year by an equally indefensible MLB decision, which is to award home field advantage in the World Series to the team whose league won that season’s All-Star Game – a decision they conceivably could still be stung by again this year (if the un-home field advantage of the Division Series doesn’t hurt them first).

As for the Wild Card fiasco, the reasons most frequently cited for making it a one-game playoff are to prevent the postseason from being pushed further into November and to maximize the excitement factor inherent in a do-or-die situation.  But would changing the Wild Card round from a single-game playoff to a best of three series really be problematic on either front?

If it ended up taking five full days to complete, that could definitely push the timeline back further than would be preferred, but another 3-4 days on top of what’s already in place isn’t entirely untenable.  A snowout or similarly inclement weather is just as likely to happen in the Northeast during early April as it is early November, if not more so.

And for just about any baseball fan out there, the potential for two extra playoff games is certainly a more exciting prospect than just one – not to mention helping to reduce the chances of a “fluke” situation that exist in a single-game scenario.  Let the best team prove it on the field over multiple games, rather than leave it to the virtual crapshoot of just one. 

Bob Bland is a Staff Writer for ShutDownInning. He can be reached at or on Twitter @SDIBob.
Bob Bland

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