It looks like there’s going to be another “round” of playoffs starting this season. Whenever I hear MLB is changing dramatically, all I can think of is the Designated Hitter (DH). It’s the thing I hate THEEE most about baseball; even more than the soap opera tabloid “reporting” for the Yankees and Red Sox (Kevin Correia just set a new record for consecutive shutout innings, but first; Derek Jeter likes the color blue, but David Ortiz prefers yellow. How will this affect the next two games of their series? Plus, the top 75 plays from last night’s 6 hour match up of the century of the day. Next on SportsCenter!). The DH ruins the strategy in baseball: no strategic pitching changes, no double switches, no need for speed, just dingers. Chumps dig the long ball.
Now it seems that the heads of baseball want to ruin everything magical about how the regular season ended last year. There would be no September 28, 2011. The Atlanta Braves and St. Louis Cardinals wouldn’t need to fight for a playoff spot up to the last day of the season; neither would the Tampa Bay Rays or the Boston Red Sox. Evan Longoria’s walk off homerun just minutes after finding out that Boston lost would have been pointless. Instead of a truly historic homerun, it would just be another walk off homerun. What would that homerun have done other than change their Wild Card designation from Team 2 to Team 1? And before someone says, “For home field advantage!”, just remember that baseball’s home field advantage in the playoffs is very small.
This expansion of playoff teams doesn’t mean that there will be even crazier ends to the season because of more spots. It only means there will be more scenarios like in football. If two teams from the same division are neck and neck during the last week of the season but both are guaranteed spots in the playoffs there’s no real incentive to change your rotation or line ups to win every last game. I remember in 1996 the Los Angeles Dodgers and the San Diego Padres were playing a series to end the season, both were going to the playoffs but the series determined as division winner or wild card. The Padres swept to take the division but I don’t really remember the games being competitive because nothing was at stake. The only drama occurs when two teams (or more) are competing for the last spot to get in the playoffs. Losers go home. MLB could add 3 more wild card spots, but there’s still only one last spot.
The most irritating aspect of this expansion is that it’s only one game. Baseball was built on series. There are three reasons for a one game “series:”
- Make up games for rainouts (or darkness in the old days)
- The tie breaker/play-in (163rd game)
- Recently, the “showcase the new stadium on Opening Night” game; the Washington Nationals were first and the Miami Marlins will be another this year
Between adding instant replay in any capacity and playing one game in the playoffs, MLB seems to be trying to mimic the NFL, which scares the pine tar out of me (more on that for a later post). I understand that the purpose of this was to help reward the division winners, but this is going to hurt the sport. Many teams have top heavy rotations (pitching staffs with an ace and a good pitcher, but not great) and since the League Division Series (LDS) is only 5 games, many underdog teams had a chance to win the LDS. This was the best thing about baseball. It meant any team could win. That’s why we love watching sports; we don’t know the outcome. We can hope and assume our team wins, but the game needs to be played. With this new set up the wild card teams will have to use their best pitchers because it is win or go home. Now their rotation that they’ve used all season long is ruined for the best match-ups against the idle division winners. And it shouldn’t be a huge reward to win a division; how many times has the wild card winner had a better record than a division winner? And the only the best overall record will play the winning wild card team. How is that a reward to the other division winners? With this set up favoring the team with the best record during the regular season, I only see a repeat of the late 90’s where everyone assumed it was the Braves and the Yankees in the World Series.
The only silver lining I can see out of this is that if the playoffs become more easily accessible for teams then maybe the amount of money being spent on players will quit ballooning which means that there will be less ballooning of tickets for us fans. But I doubt that.