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Posts Tagged ‘Playoffs’

Playoffs in professional sports are for two purposes: deciding the better of two teams after a regular season with a biased schedule and to make a lot of extra money. Should the Atlanta Braves win the NL East after playing a schedule that favors its division, it only makes sense they have a playoff against the Pittsburgh Pirates who have the same story in the NL Central.

So what do the playoffs have to do with fantasy sports?

Nothing. They are useless and an insult to high-quality teams.

Having an eight- or six-team tournament at the end of a fantasy baseball season is like allowing the Tigers, Royals, Indians, Twins and White Sox to compete to see who the real champion of the AL Central is. After 162 games, it’s the team with the best record. Further competition is not needed and an insult to the top team, especially if the bottom team decides to get hot at the right (wrong) time.

The last pure National League champions.

The last pure National League champions: 1968 St. Louis Cardinals.

I am the commissioner of an eight-team NL-only fantasy baseball league. There are no playoffs and there haven’t been ever since Yahoo! gave the option to eliminate them. Playoffs do not determine fantasy league winners; they show what team was the best in the final month of the season. There’s no extra money to be earned and the team with the best record after a full baseball season deserves its championship.

For those who believe this takes away the excitement of the final few weeks of the season, you’re wrong. Rarely is there a team that can run away with the best record after 25 weeks. The outcome almost always comes down to the final two weeks.

If you’re in a fantasy league of any sport with playoffs at the end of the season, your league is likely not determining the real champion. Fantasy leagues should be the equivalent of the pre-1969 American and National Leagues: the team with the best record holds the pennant – no playoffs required.

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Baseball could start over.  Did they ever think of that?

The main complaint after the steroid era was that all the record books were ruined; records that shouldn’t have been broken were and now it’s too late.  Of course, it was really only two records, so I don’t see the big deal.  However, baseball could start a new era and draw a definite line in the record books if it liked, or if you like, start over.

Through 1960, major league baseball had a 154-game schedule and ever since it’s been 162.  With the expanded playoffs, a lot of unnecessary spring training and Americans’ attention spans dwindling every day, many complain the season is too long.  With pitchers and catchers reporting in mid-February to the end of the World Series in late October (and sometimes early November), the season can stretch to almost nine months.

Lord knows I’d like a 365-game schedule, but even Cal Ripken needs a break now and then and new excitement needs to be brewed into the old game.  The baseball playoffs are dragging behind the NFL.  This year proved baseball can have pennant races in September thanks to horrible performances in Boston and Atlanta and spectacular runs in Tampa Bay and St. Louis.  But this year was a rarity.

Reduce regular season length
The problem with the 162-game season isn’t necessarily because there are too many games.  The problem lies in the beginning and the end of the season.  Baseball starts too early and ends too late.  Attendance tends to drag after opening day in April due to cold.  Should the schedule be reduced to the old 154 games there would be too many ignorant fans comparing current records to those of pre-1961.  A schedule somewhere around 145 games would work well.  This would allow teams to have opening day in the second week of April, giving spring more chance to develop.

Erase the record books
Instead of comparing the new shortened season to the 162 or the 154-game schedule, why don’t we just start a new record book?  This probably should have been done around 1994, but better late than never.  The first year of the new shortened season, every record will be an all-time record.

No one will pitch as many innings as Cy Young and Walter Johnson.  No one will steal 130 bases like Rickey Henderson.  No one will likely ever approach Sam Crawford’s 309 career triples.  No one will hit 73 home runs, so why not just start a new book?

Good luck to anyone planning to approach this man’s single-season or all-time stolen bases record.

The All-Star Game means nothing … again
Even though today’s All-Star Game decides home-field advantage in the World Series, it hasn’t stopped players from not wanting to play in it.  No matter how hard a competitor, there are always going to be players who would rather spend time with their families than play in this game, no matter what the outcome means.  Let the All-Star Game be a fun exhibition again and alternate the World Series home-field advantage every year like it was.

Division realignment
The only difference between the American and National leagues are their names.  They’re both owned by Major League Baseball so swapping teams shouldn’t be looked on as sacrilegious.  Fine, the NL doesn’t have the DH, but that’s the only difference.

Teams in the NL Central have been at a disadvantage since expansion and realignment in 1998 having six teams whereas other divisions have five while the AL West only four.  Let’s give another division the burden of the extra teams and give the NL Central a break.  Move the Astros to the AL West, giving the Rangers a strong division rival.  The schedule doesn’t work with an odd number of teams in the league, so let’s not only give the AL West the extra team, but let’s give the AL 16 teams instead of 14.  The Colorado Rockies can’t help but play offensive baseball making them the perfect team to adopt the DH and move to the AL West.  After years of having a blind one-in-four chance of winning the division, the AL West would now have a one-in-six chance.  The new division would look like this:

NL West – San Francisco, Los Angeles, San Diego, Arizona
NL Central – Milwaukee, St. Louis, Chicago, Cincinnati, Pittsburgh
NL East – New York, Washington, Atlanta, Philadelphia, Florida
AL West – Texas, Houston, Oakland, Seattle, Colorado, Los Angeles
AL Central – Minnesota, Chicago, Detroit, Cleveland, Kansas City
AL East – New York, Boston, Tampa Bay, Baltimore, Toronto

Can’t wait for that Padres / Royals matchup
Aside from Chicago, Los Angeles and New York, interleague play isn’t very exciting and with the extra time for exhibitions in early April, the inter-city rivals could easily have a series before the regular season begins.  Interdivision games are much more exciting than the Tigers-Diamondbacks series.  The schedule needs to be further biased matching teams like the Cardinals and Cubs, Yankees and Red Sox, and Dodgers and Giants even more often.  Aside from these obvious rivalries, more will form.  The Royals and Yankees aren’t much to watch now, but they were in the late seventies and early eighties only from the fact that both teams were so good.  Who knew the Brewers and Cardinals had a rivalry until they found each other in the NLCS this season?

Let’s save the Cubs / White Sox games for the preseason.

For a National League East team, a season could consist of playing each team in its division 25 times and every other team in the league five times giving them a 145-game season.

New, exciting playoffs
When there are one-game playoffs or series-deciding games, the nation pays attention.  Only real baseball fans care about Game 2 of the ALCS.  With the new playoff system, the nation will pay much closer attention, much like they do in the NFL.

There will be 12 playoff teams: six division winners and second place in every division.  The second-place teams, or wild cards, will play one marathon day of exciting baseball in two ballparks.  Bud Selig and MLB are working right now on giving wild-card teams more of a disadvantage.  I’m taking it a step further.

Giving teams home-field advantage based on overall record in an unbalanced schedule is not fair.  To remedy this, teams will be given home-field advantage based on their records against each other.  Should the Indians, Orioles and Mariners be the wild-card winners, their overall records against each other will be added together and the team with the highest winning percentage will have the advantage.  That edge in the new playoffs will matter, too.  It will matter for the outcome of the team as well as the ticket sales.

One day, two ballparks, four games = baseball pandemonium
Twenty four hours before the playoff series begin, the three wild-card teams of each league will come together in the ballpark of the team with the best combined record.  The two visiting teams will play an afternoon game with the winner moving on to play the home team beginning two hours after that game.  Ticket prices will be steep, but they will cover both games – a real doubleheader only with three teams.  The winner of the second game will go on to begin their best-of-five division series against the top division winner the next day.  Not only is the wild-card team worn out from playing either one or two games the day before, but they’ve also used one or two top (most likely) starting pitchers to begin a short series.  Should the wild-card team move on the championship series, they deserve it.  No matter what their record against the other playoff teams, the wild-card team will never have home-field advantage with the exception if they make it to the World Series.

Conclusion
The reduced regular season schedule will start the record books anew, reduce April snowouts and create more excitement in a more compact season that will end in late October.

The new team alignment will ease the burden of the last 14 years of the NL Central and put it on the AL West (we can switch it again in another decade or so).

More interdivision play will increase excitement and create new and real rivalries.

Can we really consider the wild-card playoff day the playoffs, or is it just a way to get into the playoffs?  Either way, there are now 12 teams involved in the postseason with six do-or-die games in one day which leads to a real advantage to division winners.

Will this realistically happen?  No, but I’ve enjoyed writing about it.

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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. 

One-game postseason drama. The Tigers-Twins 2009 one-game playoff was ranked as the No. 1 regular season game of the decade on si.com.

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.

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First and foremost this postseason, I hope the Minnesota Twins win it all.  If that can’t happen, all I ask for is some excitement in major league baseball’s postseason.  It’s been a long time since there’s been some serious drama for the baseball playoffs. 

My definition of a great postseason is fairly simple: a lot of series-deciding games and underdog victories.  I need plenty of division series that go to five games and championship series and World Series that reach the seventh game.  By this definition, the last good postseason was 2003.  

In the last decade of postseason play, there have been 70 series: 40 division series, 20 championship series and 10 World Series.  Only 27 percent (19) have gone to a deciding game.  It’s up to you to determine if this number is low, but to me, it’s far too low.  Why?  Because it’s October and soon I’m not going to see competitive baseball for five lonely months and I want to see as much as possible before I spend 10 minutes every morning scraping ice off my windshield while dreaming of the warm breeze running through the upper deck of Target Field. 

I’ll break down the number of deciding games in each series:
Division series – 25% (10 of 40)
Championship series – 35% (seven of 20)
World Series – 20% (two of 10). 

Only two World Series have reached a seventh game and they came in back-to-back seasons (2001 & 2002).  This is the lowest total by decade since the 1930s, when there was also only two seventh games (the highest total was six, in the 1960s).  This cannot stand.  I realize a good seven-game series has a lot to due with luck and getting two very evenly matched teams against each other.  There’s not much more to it than that.  This blog is not about solutions or reasons why baseball hasn’t had a good postseason for a while.  It’s pretty much just a baseball fan venting his frustration.  

Despite Minnesota’s first of four straight first-round exits in the 2003 playoffs, it proved to be a great October to watch baseball.  In the division series the Cubs and Braves traded wins with Chicago taking the final game thanks to the pitching of Kerry Wood.  The Oakland A’s took the first two games against the Red Sox, only to watch Boston win three straight to send them to the ALCS against the Yankees.  The Marlins / Giants series proved exciting even if it was decided in four games with Florida winning the fourth game thanks to the heroics of Ivan Rodriguez.  

The last time there was a great postseason, Kerry Wood was a good pitcher for the Cubs.

 

Then came the championship series.  On paper they look exciting with both games going to a seventh game.  In real life, they were more than exciting.  At the time, I was rooting for the Red Sox and Cubs, as was most of the nation.  The Red Sox hadn’t won their World Series they’d get the next year and spawn millions of bandwagon fans and the same can be said for Cubs fans … minus the World Series title, of course.  Boston held a 5-2 lead of the seventh game entering the eighth inning.  Some Red Sox fans will point fingers to manager Grady Little or Pedro Martinez, but I pointed straight up to Babe Ruth.  It was the last year of the curse of the Bambino as he guided the Yankees to score three eighth-inning runs followed by an eleventh inning home run by Aaron Boone to take the Yankees to the World Series.  

On the north side of Chicago, there was also a curse involved, but this one hasn’t been broken yet and has much more to do with a poorly run organization and play.  With the Cubs holding a 3-2 lead in the series and a 3-0 lead in the eighth inning, Moises Alou threw a conniption fit when he wasn’t able to make a catch on a foul ball in the stands which then caused shortstop Alex Gonzalez to drop an easy ground ball which then caused the Chicago Cubs to wet the bed and allow eight eighth-inning runs and lose 8-3.  Wood was rocked in the seventh game and Florida won to take the NL pennant.  

The World Series didn’t go seven games, but when the Yankees are involved, I also root for a quick finish.  Josh Beckett shut down New York 2-0 in the sixth game, giving the Florida Marlins their second championship.  

That was a good World Series.  The last great World Series was in 2002 when the Anaheim Angels defeated Barry Bonds and the San Francisco Giants four games to three.  

Seven years!  It’s been seven years since baseball fans have seen a truly great World Series and six years since there has been a good amount of drama throughout the postseason.  We’re due.  

What do I want from my postseason?  I want John Smoltz versus Jack Morris-style pitching duels.  I want underdog victories from the small-market teams as well as teams who haven’t been seen in the postseason for a long time.  I feel like a James Bond villain as I say this, but I want the Yankees eliminated!  I don’t want to see them in the championship series, let alone the World Series.  The same can be said for the Philadelphia Phillies, but not to the same extent.  I like the players on the Phillies, but they’ve been dominating the National League playoffs the last two seasons and I’d like to see someone new in the World Series.  

FOX Sports and Yankees fans are the only ones who would love to see A-Rod go deep in the postseason.

 

There are some great story lines waiting to happen, but none of them include Mariano Rivera getting the last out in another World Series.  No one thought the Reds would be better than the Cardinals, much less the rest of the division.  The Giants lineup, with exception to rookie Buster Posey (great baseball name, by the way), is from the land of misfit toys.  Baseball fans would like to remember Bobby Cox’s last postseason as a competitive one.  No one believes in the Rays, especially in Tampa Bay.  The Rangers have never won a postseason series.  The Minnesota Twins are the greatest baseball organization in the history of mankind. 

There are so many good things that can happen this postseason.  I’m hoping for all the baseball that’s possible.  The postseason will consist of between 24 and 41 games.  C’mon baseball, we won’t see you for a while … let’s make it last. 

The end of the last great postseason.

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