Take a close look at the National League standings and notice something strange. The top 3 records are all from the same division! All three are from the central division: St. Louis Cardinals with 99, Pittsburg Pirates with 95 and the Chicago Cubs with 91. The 4th and 5th place teams were fortunate enough to be in weaker divisions so they each win their group (New York Mets win the East and the LA Dodgers the West).
History of the Postseason Format
Before we go further, let me cover the ever-changing format of the postseason.
Long, long ago there wasn’t a playoff system as we know it today. There was just the World Series that had the respective winners of each league facing off in the Fall classic. This lasted from 1903 to 1968. Pretty simple, huh?
Well, we have to admit that this format was far too simple and it did not help keep the interest of fans throughout the entire baseball season except for a handful of contenders. This usually meant the same cast of characters such as the New York Yankees, Brooklyn Dodgers, New York Giants and then a few others that rotated taking turns to make a run for the title. In most cases the season was over very early for most teams.
Then from 1969 to 1993 there was a League Championship series that was a best of 5 series. In 1985 it was expanded to a best of 7 series which made a lot of sense.
1994 to 2011 the wild card was implemented because there were three divisional winners so they needed a 4th team to make it even. The team with the best record that didn’t win the division would make the postseason.
2012 introduced the hideous 1-game wild card playoff game where the two teams with the best records of non-divisional winners play each other in a 1-game loser goes home.
So here’s why this sucks so much. Let’s say you’re a fan of the Pirates or the Cubs who’ve both enjoyed incredible seasons. They’ve been one of the top 3 teams all year long but unfortunately they happened to play in the same divisional with each other and the team with the top record in all of baseball, the St. Louis Cardinals. This means one of these two awesome teams will be finished after ONE playoff game. One and Done. Now that’s awful for baseball, not just the fans for each team.
How Do We Fix the Wild Card System?
Personally, I like the idea for having a wild card system. I just hate the 1-game format. We MUST expand this to a best 2 out of 3 series or even better the best of 5 series. This is the only smart and fair way to prove anything.
The current 1-game format boils the entire season down to which team has the better pitching ace. In 2014, despite having homefield advantage for the Wild Card game, the Pittsburg Pirates lost to the San Francisco Giants because they happened to have Madison Bumgarner who went on to have a historic postseason.
I have to admit that there are good aspects to having the Wild Card in general. Here’s a good example of why the wild card is exciting. The 2014 San Francisco Giants almost didn’t even make the postseason but they managed to get hot at the end of the season and squeaked in as a wild card team where they beat the Pirates in the 1-game wild card game. They then stunned the Washington Nationals and St. Louis Cardinals and ultimately won the World Series. All this from a team that wouldn’t have made the postseason in the old formats.
Still, we need to expand the format away from the coin flip that is the 1-game wild card game. Please, for the love of the National past time, we need a longer series for the teams and their fans.
Just say no to the one and done format!
P.S. I’m a lifelong Yankee fan so in case you’re wondering if this piece was written by a whiny fan of the Cubs or Pirates think again. Yes, my Yankees are going in as a wild card team this year too but I really don’t have any high hopes for this year’s team so I wouldn’t be surprised if they got eliminated in this 1-game playoff. Even if we move on, I don’t think we can beat Toronto or Kansas City in a long series. I do have big hopes for the Cubs as I’ve predicted that they would go on a miracle run and finally win the World Series for the first time since 1908! Here’s a glimpse of what it’s going to look like.
By the way, I’m hoping the city of Chicago will finally forgive Steve Bartman after they win the World Series.