We have been hearing about expanded playoffs in Major League Baseball for a while. And now it is a reality.
Beginning in 2012 or 2013, MLB will add a second Wild Card team to each league. The two Wild Cards will then play a 1-game playoff game for the right to play one of the division winners in the Divisional Series.
On the surface, a one-game playoff sounds like an inherently unfair situation for the top Wild Card team, but there are good reasons for it…
- Places emphasis back on winning the division— Several times in recent years we have seen situations in which a good division race was rendered meaningless because both teams were guaranteed playoff spots. Also, as the playoff format stands now, there is almost no advantage to winning the division over being the Wild Card. While the owners care about the extra home game and the associated ticket sales, most players and managers feel being well-rested is far more important than playing game 1 at home. And if given the choice, no team wants their entire season to rest on a single game where anything can happen.
- A 1-game series keeps World Series in October — Major League Baseball has made several changes in recent years to keep the World Series from leaking into November. Adding a 3-game or 5-game Wild Card series would almost certainly push the Fall Classic back into November.
- Much-needed excitement — There is nothing more exciting in sports than a one-game, winner-takes-all situation. In baseball, that typically means a game 7. And those don’t happen very often. Now we are guaranteed at least two of these every year.
There are some risks. What if there are playoff games just to determine the second Wild Card team? Is the one-game playoff fair if one Wild Card team is significantly better than the second team? And yes, it is asking a lot to fight for 162 games only to have it all come down to a 1-game series. But in the end, we are talking about two teams that weren’t even in the playoffs 15 years ago.
The system isn’t perfect. But it is better.