Today we look at item # 2 on my list of ways I would improve the game. If you missed the first suggestion, I called for increased usage of the DH and presented a plan for how I feel it would work. Today’s topic is reforming the playoff system to present a more enjoyable experience while truly valuing what teams do in the regular season.
What I Believe is Broken: There is one problem I see with the current format and two improvements I’d make to better the system. Currently, we see a best of five series in the first round in which the team with the best record in the regular season plays the wild card team in a best of five series (unless said team is in their division). The problem with this system is two-fold. First, it in no way gives the team with the best record a significant advantage over the rest of the teams. When you battle and claw your way to the best record in the league, you should be rewarded for that hard work with at least an advantage in the first round of the playoffs. Because a short series in baseball is so unpredictable, we’ve often seen the wild card team advance over a much better top team. Take for example the 2003 Florida Marlins or the 2007 Colorado Rockies. Both teams were less than impressiv e and came into the playoffs as wild card teams. In fact, the Marlins had even fired their manager early in the season before going on a run to get to the playoffs under Jack McKeon. Neither team really had any business being in the World Series, let alone winning it. Since it’s inception in 1995, the wild card has provided MLB with four World Series winners, including three straight champions from 2002 – 2004. Maybe I’m just a fan of chalk, but I don’t think this should be the case. I wanna see the best teams duking it out in the end, not the hottest teams. My plan is a simple, yet radical way to change the way the format works that should make for more of the cream rising to the top in October.
What I Propose: As I said, my proposal is three-fold and can be taken apart and implemented separately or together.
Item # 1 – League Champions for the regular season choose their opponent
Item # 2 – League Champions for the regular season get four of the five LDS games at home with the opponent team getting one.
Item # 3 – Add a 2nd wild card team
How it would work: As I said, all three of these suggestions can be put into place together or separately. Here is how each would work
Obviously the first two are fairly self explanatory. When the season ends, the league champs will choose who they best matchup against and alert the league accordingly. By doing this, it makes that first seed meaningful because you’re able to elect to avoid a particularly hot team and in turn select a team that might be struggling, injured, not well rested, etc. You could also choose to simply play a team that your squad best matches up against. Regardless of the criteria, it awards the team with the best record with a perk that should be there for being the best over 162 games. Those six months should not be irrelevant.
Once the matchups are set, the league champ also receives a sizable advantage in the first round. If we’re all in agreement that the playoffs tend to get too long, then it’s important that the first round stays a best of five series. Because a short series tends to lessen the dispairity between a good team and an average team, the top team in the league is rewarded with four of the five games being at home. The format would be 2-1-2, which would garuntee that the opponent would get a home game for their fans in the first round. Once the LCS round came into place, the home field format would return to normal with the better team getting four of the seven.
Item # 3 is a little more interesting. When Bud Selig proposed the idea of three divisions in a league and the addition of the wild card, many purists scoffed at the idea and didn’t want to give it a chance. As time has passed it has become clear that the wild card has been a quality improvement to the game as we see it because of the fact that it keeps more teams in the hunt longer into the season. Because of this, we see better quality baseball deeper into the season from more teams. Adding a team to that mix would only help that even more.
Under my plan, the three division champions would be given a spot in the playoffs. From there, the next two top records would then be awarded a playoff spot in a special “play in game”. Simply put, a one game playoff the day after the regular season, similar to the ones we see in the event of a tie for the wild card or division. The winner of the play in game would then be awarded the trip to the LDS.
By implementing this concept, it keeps more teams in the hunt as well as lessens the idea that a weak division winner would be taking the spot of a team with a better record in the regular season.
How it would have looked in 2009:
Play in game between: Boston & Texas
Play in game between: Colorado & San Francisco