The Major League Baseball season is a 162-game marathon that should, over time, force the most complete and competitive teams to the top.
And for most of baseball history that has been the case.
I admit to being someone who was not a fan of the wild card when it was first instituted back in 1995, but it proved to be a solid addition to the postseason, at least until 2012 when MLB added a second wild card team to each league.
One game eliminations ain’t baseball
In the 26 years since seven wild card teams have won a World Series. The Miami Marlins have done it twice.
Last year the pandemic forced baseball to get creative with its playoffs, expanding the tournament to 16 teams (eight from each league) in order to balance out a season that tried to squeeze 60 games into 65 days.
But this season, MLB in all its wisdom went back to a playoff structure that keeps the three division champions, along with two wild card teams that will face each other in a one-game playoff in order to advance to the Divisional Round.
This means that in the American League, teams with 90-plus wins like the Red Sox, Yankees, or Blue Jays, could be eliminated in one afternoon. There is a real possibility that both Wild Card teams could have more wins the AL Central champion Chicago White Sox.
It’s even worse in the National League. Both the San Francisco Giants and Los Angeles Dodgers have already reached 100 wins. One of them will finish second in the NL West, and one of the best teams in baseball could get just nine innings of postseason baseball.
Baseball isn’t the NFL or the NBA where more than half the teams in their respective leagues go to the playoffs. Until last season, a team with a sub-.500 record hadn’t reached the postseason since 1981, a season shortened by a players’ strike. That regularly happens in other sports.
Fans want to see the best teams compete for the championship, and so should MLB. But imagine a scenario where the two largest media markets in the country are eliminated after one game.
MLB already struggles with name recognition for some of its brightest stars. To have a Mookie Betts, or Aaron Judge watching the playoffs like millions of fans rather than playing in them would not be a good look at all.
The solution is actually pretty simple
The divisional format itself doesn’t have to change, though it could. But if it doesn’t, simply add a third Wild Card team to give each league six playoff representatives. First-round byes would be extended to the top four teams in each league and the final two would play in a three-game series to advance to the Divisional Series.
Follow that with a five-game second round, and seven-game series for both the league championships and the World Series.
Competitive balance is restored, owners and media outlets make more money, and most importantly, fans get more playoff drama without any fan base feeling cheated.
If you want single-elimination playoffs, stick with football or the NCAA tournament. The only time it should happen in baseball is when two teams are tied after the last game of the regular season.
MLB is flirting with disaster by potentially losing millions of viewers. It’s time for a change-up.