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The Wild Card System Couldn’t Be Worse
As a big fan of baseball games that mean “everything” (example: game 162 last year), I was pumped about the new playoff system and getting a one game playoff every year. The drama is awesome and sports writers will have a chance to over-dramatize every aspect of every matchup in every inning of game 163. It gives the talking heads something to talk about and the casual fan a reason to tune in–and made television networks salivate at the prospects of higher Nielson ratings. The new Wild Card format created headaches for the traveling secretaries, while the what-if-ers among us enjoyed the prospect of three do-or-dies in three days. The problem is that the new system completely and uterly devalues the 162 games played during the previous six months. Under today’s system, teams are given a chance to prove they are among the five best in their respective leagues, and then advance to the postseason with varying degrees of eligibiliity. And it’s that varying degrees of eligibility that is so dead wrong.
Consider that as of today, the Braves have a seven game lead over the second Wild Card team, St. Louis. They own the third best record in the National League, but are soon to be reduced to a one game playoff. That seems wrong. To be logical, the Cardinals should have to beat the Braves seven straight times, not just the once in a one game playoff. And I don’t want to hear the line about how the better team would win the game regardless. It’s baseball; even the 1927 Yankees lost 44 times.
The main reason that this Wild Card system couldn’t be worse is that it is attempting to protect the sanctity of an already broken scheduling system.
I understand protecting the sanctity of the division winner, but only to an extent. Remember that the division series has only been around since 1994 (a very short time in baseball terms) and before that, the pennant (awarded to the best team in each league) was the only thing that mattered. I’d be a bigger proponent of recognizing the top team in the respective leagues with some sort of bye in the opening round of the playoff rather than forcing the (potentially) second best team into a one-game playoff. After drawing up some brackets, there still needs to be some play-in game or round robin-type system that is dumber than what is currently in place.
Which is why I’m introducing the super-special one-game-playoff: If the Wild Card Team that sits atop the Wild Card standings has more than a three game lead on their pursuers, then they are automatically inserted into the standard 4-team playoff (circa 2011). Should that second Wild Card team be within the three game window, then we’ve got ourselves a one game playoff. This keeps fans intrigued, creates storylines for all of the September contenders and gives an incentive for the top Wild Card team to generally continue kicking ass so as to keep themselves out of the one game playoff.
You may ask why the arbitrary three game advantage? To that I ask why the arbitrary divisions?
I would really enjoy the reordering of the three division winners and two Wild Cards according to record, but with Bud Selig wanting to keep his precious divisons important, we have to reward those division winners. And that’s just the way it is. Even if it’s the worst possible way… for a Braves fan.