When the second MLB Wild Card position was introduced, there were early detractors. Then “Day 162” happened, and everyone got the picture: a second MLB Wild Card adds excitement to the final days of the season, and gives fans and players something extra to pull for down the home stretch.
The next step, I believe, should be to expand the MLB Wild Card matchup from a single-elimination game to a best-of-three series. It would be better for fans, execs and players, and it would be a better way for deserving teams to have a real chance at the World Series.
This part is easy: more postseason games games means more excitement for fans of the teams involved. For example, long-suffering Pittsburgh Pirates fans will be psyched at a chance to watch more of their team’s first playoff appearance in two decades. The same applies to any team’s fans and this leads to happy days for our next contingent: the execs.
Let’s be real: Major League Baseball, love of the game aside, is a money-making venture for a lot of folks in suits. And those folks in suits are happier when there are fans in the seats. How better to get fans in the seats than a playoff game? It seems like a drag to even factor them in, but they’re a driving force behind much of what happens in baseball. If they’re made happy while the fans are made happy as well, well, you get the drift.
This one’s also obvious. Guys like A.J. Burnett, who’s contemplating retirement, will get their Major League finale in the postseason. Young players getting their first shot at the playoffs will enjoy more of a chance to get their feet wet. And all but the most burnt-out or injured players will enjoy the chance to prove their mettle in October. And losing a series seems much less fluky than getting knocked out of the postseason in a single game.
If it’s the postseason, why isn’t it a series?
Another thing worth considering is how we define the postseason in the first place. Football’s postseason is single-elimination because of the nature of the game: teams wouldn’t make it through multiple rounds of multiple games. Other than football, most of the major North American sports have their postseasons in a serial format, even if it’s a short series. If the MLB Wild Card “series” is just a single-elimination game, why call it a “series” at all? Call it what it is: a play-in game.
But shouldn’t winning your division count for something?
Of course it should; that’s why I’m suggesting a best of three instead of a best of five or seven. If you win your division, then you’ve won the right for more chances to decide your playoff fate. But having said that, it’s important to point out one last thing.
Teams that win their divisions aren’t always better than Wild Card teams
Right now, the Pittsburgh Pirates–a team locked into a Wild Card position–have the same record as the Los Angeles Dodgers, who have locked up the NL West. The very existence of the MLB Wild Card is due to instances when the best teams missed the playoffs due to being stuck in the wrong division. That same logic that gave those teams a playoff spot should give them more influence over their postseason fate.
I agree that winning your division should confer some advantage, but it would be absurd to suggest that the division winners are always the best teams in their league, as this is frequently not the case. The counter-argument might be to point to examples of middling teams that get hot at the right time and advance farther than people think they should, but this can happen anyway.
The crux of the matter, to me, is this: is it the playoffs or is it a play-in game? If it’s the playoffs, treat the teams accordingly and give them a chance to sort things out in an actual series. The MLB Wild Card matchup should be a chance for deserving teams to prove themselves. In a three game series, both teams would have a right to a home game, without giving them the same latitude as division winners. Players, fans and execs would all win, and it wouldn’t water down the game. Making the MLB Wild Card Series an actual series would be fair, profitable and fun.