There’s been a lot of moaning about the new playoff format. It started during last-year’s playoffs and is still going on.
The two division winners with the most victories get a first-round bye while the other teams play a best-of-three first round wildcard series. Last season, three of the four teams with byes lost. Same thing happened this year. So, naturally, people want to complain that the system is flawed.
For some reason, it bothers people that a World Series could be played with two wild card teams and not a single division winner. As if this year’s World Series was somehow tainted because the number-six seed in the National League, the Arizona Diamondbacks, played the number-five seed in the American League, the Texas Rangers.
One of the biggest complaints is it makes the regular season irrelevant.
First, yes, the Rangers were a number-five seed. But they had exactly the same record as the number two-seed division winner Houston Astros. This wasn’t some team that snuck in through the back door and didn’t deserve to be in the playoffs.
Record-wise, the teams were identical. When they met in the Championship Series, the Rangers proved they were one game better.
As to the argument that it cheapens the season letting wild card teams in, I would argue the opposite. Before wild card teams were added, there were a number of instances where a second-place team won 100 or more games and didn’t make the playoffs because another team in their division had more wins. Not going to the playoffs after a year that remarkable cheapens the season. What good is a season where you win more games than all the teams in all the other divisions in your league, yet you don’t make the playoffs?
By having wild card teams, you make the season have meaning. Some teams play in strong divisions, like the A.L. East was this year, and some teams play in patsy divisions, like the A.L. Central is most years. Wild card teams even out that imbalance. Of course, if they start adding more wild card teams (and why not, that’s just printing money?) then it starts cheapening it.
But right now, the format is the most fair it’s been. So, how does a ninety-win team like the Rangers knock off a 101-win team like Baltimore? Because Baltimore chose not to bolster its pitching at the trade deadline. They have a horribly cheap owner and he remained that way, trying to win it all with the cheap kids they developed. They have quite a team of kids but they lost because the Rangers had a better team.
The format is fine. Had the Rangers won one more game, had they not have had the worst bullpen in the history of bullpens and blown only thirty-two saves rather than thirty-three, they would have won the division. Then, I guess, people would have been happy that the format isn’t flawed.
With the new rule changes to speed up the game and eliminate the shift, baseball is in a good place.
Of course, it helped that the Rangers won it all. Even if they were a lowly wild card team.