Friday, October 5, 2012

The baseball playoffs. Fair or foul??

The major league playoffs start tonight with "wild card" games.. Texas and Baltimore square off as do Atlanta and St. Louis. Whoever loses those games goes home. The survivors move on to meet a division winner in basically a quarterfinal on the way to the championship (World Series).  Is that fair?

Depends how one looks at it. For many decades there were no such playoffs. The team with the best regular season record in the National League met their counterparts from the American League in the World Series to decide the championship. Best 4 out of 7 wins. Period. End of story.

But then came "expansion" with the creation of many more teams. Then somebody figured out there was a ton of money to be made by classifying the glut of teams from both leagues into "divisions", and expanding the playoffs as well. Also, these divisions were supposed to have teams within them in relatively close geographical proximity, and the schedule was weighted so they would play each other more than other teams, hopefully to create rivalries. To boot, it would cut down on travel miles, jet lag for the players, and those sort of things. Like the designated hitter rule and inter-league play, whether or not it's enhanced the overall game is certainly debatable.

But given the right circumstances, the current playoff format could be considered quite unfair. As an example, let's say the NY Yankees won the American League East Division with the best record in the AL. The Baltimore Orioles finished one game back of them, with the second best record in the league. Let's further assume that particular division featured the toughest competition that, with the weighted schedule, they would have to fight through over the course of the year. In the meanwhile, it could be that a team such as the Chisox in the AL Central won their division not only playing many more games against much weaker teams, but also finished the season under .500. There could be a 20 game difference in win-loss records between Baltimore and Chicago. It's entirely possible.

If that were to happen, despite having the second best overall record against superior competition, the Orioles would find themselves facing the equivalent of the NCAA tournament's basketball "play-in" game between the two bottom seeds while, in effect, being a #2 seed when the tournament started. While they're slugging it out with another team in a "one and done" that might also very well have compiled a vastly superior record to Chicago, the White Sox get a bye. Something is wrong with this picture.

Sure, teams can get hot at the right time and carry it through to an unlikely championship. The St. Louis Cardinals, who barely squeaked into the playoffs last year, are proof positive of that.

The division alignments are all well and good, and let the champs of those divisions get a trophy and a pennant, even if they're under .500. But when it comes to the playoffs, things should be set up differently.

Division champs or not, let the teams with the two worst records amongst the qualifiers in the entire league play a one game knockout for the right to advance further in the playoffs. What could be fairer than that?


  1. OMG John, this is almost as bad as the should have, could have, what if article on the Tigers not being able to win the Division that you wrote a couple of weeks back. Stop whining about this crap. Try to imagine that very few of the fans of any of these teams care. Sports is big business for everyone, hense the extra games, and for those diehard fans, it is great. It is a win/win situation for the fans, the teams and the communities. You have entirely too much time on your hands

    The Princess

    1. You miss my point, Your Highness. I'm all for the playoffs, the extra games, excitement, and what it brings to the fans, teams, communities, etc. While there would still be the same number of teams and games involved, I merely advocate the format be set up differently in the interest of fairness.