October is one of the most exciting months in sports because it’s not that often that baseball, basketball, hockey and football—both college and professional—overlap. No matter what sport you are a fan of, there is something for you to watch.
Baseball is my favorite sport to watch in October because it has the added bonus of being the playoffs, which adds a whole new level of excitement to what is already America’s pastime. Which brings me to an issue I have with the MLB playoffs right now.
Now you can read this article in one of two ways, or both for that matter. The first way is as the opinion of a Cardinals fan who is bitter about the end of their season at the hands of their longtime rivals, the Chicago Cubs.
Or, since it’s hockey season and I’ve devoted all my time to supporting the St. Louis Blues, as a fan of baseball in general who thinks that the current playoff format needs to be changed.
This season the three best teams in baseball—from a regular season record viewpoint—all played in the same division. Not just the same league, no. They all played in the National League Central and were all within three games of each other.
So the fact that there is a second wild-card now is great because without it one of the top-three teams in baseball (who is now playing in the NLCS) wouldn’t have even made the playoffs this year.
The issue isn’t the second wild-card, it’s how the seeding works. With the way the playoffs are formatted now, the team with the best overall record hosts the winner of the wild-card game. The thought is that they get two advantages in this situation. The first is getting to play the wild-card team, and the second being that the wild-card winner will have already used their best pitcher to get past the opening round.
In theory this sounds great. But this year it didn’t really turn out that way. The top three teams in the Major Leagues had to play each other back-to-back-to-back.
Because of this, the Cardinals who had the top record in baseball got the “reward” of playing the Chicago Cubs in the NLDS, when the Cubs were the third best team in the country.
Meanwhile the Dodgers hosted the Mets. LA lost their series as well, but that’s besides the point.
So what can be done to prevent something like this from happening in the future? That’s a tough question because there’s no one thing that can be changed that won’t cause some other issue to pop up.
People around the sport have offered suggestions like making the wild-card series longer, changing divisions or even going back to the way it was and getting rid of divisions entirely but still having five or even six teams make the playoffs per division.
These are all possibilities, but there are issues with all of them still that would need to be figured out before MLB would even think about implementing them.
But there’s always the possibility that this was a one year fluke and this won’t happen again. Three teams with 97 wins in a season is crazy, and them all being in the same division is even crazier.
So maybe there’s no reason to go changing the structure of the playoffs just because it isn’t “fair.” After all, the hottest team in the playoffs, no matter their record, is the one who hoists up the trophy.
So then fairness doesn’t always matter (note that I am not talking about cheating, that always matters). Is it really fair that the Cardinals played the Cubs in the first round? Maybe not. Does that really matter? I would argue that it doesn’t.