Now I live in northern California and the Giants are the home team (Oakland is technically closer by a few miles but when I say baseball I mean the National League - softball has 10 players and American League baseball has 10 players so I count both as separate sports), which can be confusing for a Dodgers fan since, harkening back to their days as competitors in New York, they have been fierce rivals. But I try to support the home team and I used to get season tickets with a group of guys (I live too far away now) so the Giants were the only team that got me to the World Series - I've never lived in Los Angeles and it's been a while for the Dodgers.
Going into the last day of baseball season, here is the interesting playoff scenario, but it is not why I am going to defy fellow purists and ask for more playoffs, after just complaining about the designated hitter in the American League. Follow with me, it will make sense; non-baseball fans checked out at the title so we can have some fun together.
If the Giants beat the Padres and the Braves beat the Phillies, the Giants win the NL West division and the Braves are the Wild Card but if the Padres beat the Giants and the Phillies beat the Braves, the Padres win the NL West despite a season tie because they beat the Giants more than they lost when they played each other but the Giants would still win the Wild Card.
If the Giants beat the Padres and the Phillies beat the Braves, the Giants win the NL West and the Padres would have to play the Braves in a one-game tiebreaker to win the Wild Card.
Finally, if the Padres beat the Giants and the Braves beat the Phillies we have a three-way tie, which means the Giants would have to fly to San Diego and play them again, fourth day in a row, to win the NL West division and the loser of that game would then fly to Atlanta to face the Braves and determine the Wild Card.
This is positively delightful, right? It is the best way to end the season and we have the Wild Card to thank for it, but I am still against it. So how can I be against the Wild Card yet endorse more playoffs?
Because the actual prize, winning the NL West division, which used to mean something, isn't really much of a prize at all in the current playoff system. Given the nature of baseball and because the first round of the playoffs is a 'short' series compared to later rounds (best of 5 rather than best of 7) winning the NL West is not really all that great - you might get home field advantage but exactly 50% of playoff games in the National League have won despite not having that one extra game at home. The current playoff system has made winning the division practically meaningless. Heck, who talks about winning a pennant any more?
In the scenario above, those one-game playoffs are exciting to baseball fans because they are an anomaly - but perhaps they shouldn't be Yes, the solution may be to add another Wild Card team, as proposed by Elias Sports Bureau's Steve Hirdt and endorsed more recently by Tom Verducci at Sports Illustrated - because it would bring meaning back to winning the Division and not just making the playoffs.
Basically, to fix a problem created by baseball's desire to add a lucrative NFL-style uber-long playoff system can only be fixed by adding even more. Basically, our six division winners (three in the National League and three in the American League) would be resting while the now-two Wild Card teams, those two with the next best records, would face each other in a one game, winner-take-all event. That means no one can coast at the end of the season if they are in the same division but the second place team is also in the lead for the Wild Card, as has been the case for much of September in the American League.
Other purists who didn't already stop reading because of another Wild Card will object to a one-game playoff because such a thing should only be an anomaly in baseball (like interleague play but we seem to be stuck with that) and series during the season are at least three games long - but Jayson Stark at ESPN argues a one-game playoff would create an October Madness and that is good for the game. But baseball minds will think in terms of money and probably want at least a best-of-three series.
That means the season is even longer. No, Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig has said he's seen enough of November baseball and I would love a return to pushing the season start back a week, as it used to be and also, while we are at it, giving the Cincinnati Reds the first game of the season per tradition again(1).
Obviously there are logistics headaches but the people watching and attending September baseball would be increased quite a lot and, more importantly for purists, winning the Division race would once again have some value instead of basically being a statistically negligible tie with the Wild Card.
(1) Why? Because tradition is cool and baseball is a traditional sport. Paraphrasing George Will, on that day in June of 1876 when General George Custer made his dumbest, and last, mistake at Little Big Horn in Montana, the Chicago White Stockings played the Cincinnati Red Stockings; both teams wore knickers and did so again this year.
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