One-game Wild Card has to go
Many of the complaints you will find associated with the rules and traditions of Major League Baseball involve not wanting to change things that have been associated with the game for decades.
But for me, the most frustrating rule in professional baseball is a new one.
The original addition of a Wild Card team in the playoffs to accommodate for the switch from two large divisions in the American League and the National League to three divisions where each winner made the playoffs made sense.
With MLB’s expansion, it was ridiculous that in 1993 only four teams made the playoffs. The Wild Card was needed to allow for a fourth team in each league to make the postseason without the need for a bye after the divisional shift.
The problem was the format.
Instead of a seven-game series like the league championship series and the World Series, the first-round series became five games. In 2012, the league made the issue even worse by allowing a second Wild Card team into the postseason but instituting a one-game playoff between the two to advance into the divisional series.
That format does not help identify the best team.
Some may argue that a Wild Card team simply should have won its division, but what if that team made a big trade in late July and is now playing better than the division champion that limped to the finish?
Perhaps that trade involved a starting pitcher — not an ace pitcher, but a really solid No. 4 guy who helped that team win critical games down the stretch it wouldn’t have won without that player.
That fourth pitcher was an integral part of the team in the grind that is the MLB season, and played an important role. However, when the playoffs start, in a one-game or five-game series, that player suddenly doesn’t matter. Why should the game a team plays for 162 contests change when it means the most?
Having solid No. 4 and No. 5 starting pitchers is critical all season, but some don’t even make playoff rosters. In a seven-game series, it’s more likely that solid No. 4 pitcher is at least used, and it helps decide which team was truly constructed the best.
In the early 2000s, most people remember the Oakland Athletics had Barry Zito, Tim Hudson and Mark Mulder, but what made those teams special in the regular season was having a No. 4 pitcher like Cory Lidle, who was simply better than every other team’s fourth-best pitcher.
When the A’s got into a five-game playoff format, other teams that couldn’t match their pitching depth in the regular season did so more easily in a short series, and Oakland’s “Big 3” never made it past the divisional series.
That same issue happens now but on a greater scale when Wild Card teams clash. One team may have an absolute ace pitcher like Max Scherzer but perhaps their No. 2 and No. 3 guys aren’t as strong as their competition. None of that matters in a one-game playoff, and the best complete team doesn’t always win.
People argue that extending the season by making the postseason longer with more games in each series isn’t what baseball needs, but how many times have you heard fans of the NBA and NHL say they don’t care about the season until playoffs start?
In Major League Baseball, you get an extremely long season followed by the smallest postseason field in all major sports.
I would have no problem adding a few more teams to the playoff mix in exchange for shortening the regular season. It would keep more people invested longer.
Just please decide each series on which team is the best, not which player had one breakout game. That’s simply never the way the MLB postseason was intended to play out and why it’s so common that in baseball, the best team doesn’t always win it all.
Michael Boytim can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @BoytimMichael