In terms of the postseason, the one thing that differs baseball from other sports is it’s the sport most difficult to reach the playoffs. There are 30 teams in major league baseball and eight move to the postseason unlike basketball and hockey where 16 teams advance. In the NFL, 12 of 32 teams advance. There has been talk recently that baseball could expand its postseason to include two additional teams. Here’s what one baseball fan thinks.
It’s not easy reaching the baseball playoffs and I hope it stays that way. However, if done properly, the playoffs could be just as challenging to reach if more teams are included. As of now the division winners of each league (three in each) automatically reach the postseason. There is one wild-card team in each league that represents the team with the best record that did not win its division. The first round of playoffs is a best-of-five series. The winner of those playoffs reach the league championship series in each league for a best-of-seven battle and the winner of those two reach the poorly named World Series (thanks for that egotistical title, 1903 sportswriters).
To add the most excitement along with television ratings, it would be great to see baseball add one wild-card team to each league. The two wild-card teams would play something similar to what two teams that tied to end the season. Some call it a 163rd game and others a one-game playoff. The winner of that game would go on to play the team with the best record in its league regardless of what division they play in. Today’s rules state a wild-card winner cannot play a team in its own division in the first round. Why does this rule exist? My guess is so the Yankees and Red Sox can play seven games instead of five and increase television ratings.
There is nothing more exciting than a one-game playoff. One-game tiebreakers were necessary in 2007, 2008 and 2009 and ratings were great. This cannot be said for the 2010 World Series which ended after only five games. Playoffs ratings for the NFL are always great and a big part of this is the importance of each game: loser goes home. When this instance happens in baseball, ratings skyrocket and baseball benefits for more than one reason.
Many coaches will argue that a team’s destiny shouldn’t be based on one game after playing 162 during the regular season. My response is: Then maybe you should have won a few more games between April and October. A team has plenty of time to earn a division title. Wild-card teams shouldn’t earn the same privileges of division winners.
Having a one-game playoff also won’t add onto the length of the playoffs. It can be played the day after the regular season ends and the winning team can have one day off before the division series begins. Should the players union demand for a best-of-three series, a doubleheader should be played one day and if the games are split, then the decisive third game should be played the next day. Having the wild-card team play extra games with its rotation out of order will also add to the disadvantage of playing the league’s top team.
If this system were in place for the 2010 season, the Yankees and Red Sox would have been the wild-card teams in the American League. This means there would have been a winner-take-all Monday night game between these two large-market teams. Not only would baseball pull in huge ratings, but it would have created huge interest for the remainder of the playoffs and lasting highlights and memories.
In the NFL, the top teams are given first-round byes: extra time to rest and prepare. This is wise. Baseball should find a way to better reward the best teams while making wild-card teams work to make up for their lack of wins during the regular season. As of now, the only disadvantage the wild-card team has is lack of home-field advantage. Ask the 1997 Marlins, 2002 Angels, 2003 Marlins and the 2004 Red Sox if home-field advantage makes a difference.
More teams and playoff levels aren’t needed to spice up baseball’s postseason, but suspense and drama is.