As a man who wrote an entire book describing “rational” reasons for the Cubs’108 year drought…I hope this does not come off as an excuse. The 2016 Cubs are clearly the best team in baseball…and that is not a subjective opinion. Whether one uses record, WAR, defensive metrics, pitching statistics, on-base percentage, the gaudy run differential…there really is no doubt. The Cubs are so good…that I would be willing to guarantee a title…if they didn’t have to play a five game series.
Of the major sports leagues, the MLB has always been the last to embrace any kind of change, and when they do make alterations… it results in half-assed or just plain bad results. For years the MLB resisted extra play-off teams:
- From 1903-1968 there was one representative from the NL and AL that went to the World Series. For 58 of those seasons there were only 8 teams in each league…so…fine I guess.
- In 1969 when the AL and NL each expanded to 12 teams, the leagues were split into 2 divisions of 6, so you had two play-off teams in each league playing in best of 5 league championship series. Of course the league championship series were changed to best of 7 in 1985…one year after the Cubs lost in 5 to the Padres.
- This remained the status quo all the way up until 1995(forgive us for the strike…please!) when 4 teams from each league made the play-offs…3 division winners and a wild card.
- In 2012 a fifth wild-card was added…to play a 1 game play-off with the other wild card entry.
While I love the idea of extra play-off teams, and regular season records do not always indicate who the best teams are, it is worth noting that:
- Since the 1995 inception of the wild-card (21 seasons), the team with the overall best regular season record has won the World Series just 4 times. The good news? Twice it was the Red Sox with Theo players!
- By comparison, there have been 6 wild card champions during that same time.
Examining year by year, one finds many examples of solid division champs that played in a tough division and hence had lesser regular season records, and therefore are deserved champs. Amongst the wild-card champs, you find the ’04 Red Sox who won 98 games finishing second to the Yankees only to vanquish them in the play-offs…a rightful champ. While I don’t want this to sound like a pre-emptive excuse for the ’16 Cubs, I believe the play-offs as currently structured allow for too much randomness. (See 2014 when both World Series teams won one game play-offs)
Obviously no one will ever be in favor of reducing the number of teams(Less money, less teams in the race), yet I think a bit more regular season relevance is needed. Why play 162 games if the “hot” team can win 1 game and is even with a team that has done it throughout 162?
Here is what I would suggest:
- The two wild-card teams play a best of 3 series over three consecutive days.
- The winners then play the #1 seed in a best of 7 (eliminate the 5 game series), then 7 NLCS, and 7 in the World Series.
- Have the wild card games start in the last week of September…this could easily be done by (gasp) bringing back a few traditional double-headers throughout the year for teams.
Would you feel better knowing the Cubs, by virtue of winning the division, would have a 7 game series versus the wild-card winner?
I realize comparing sports is a bit like comparing apples and oranges, or really more like comparing apples with hard candy…yet I am going to use hockey to further illustrate my point. Hockey…much like baseball…is a random sport where the best team does not always win. Sometimes it just may take a hot goalie or “puck luck” for a team to win a hockey game. Yet as a Blackhawks fan, it has given me great comfort knowing that during this current run a team would have to beat the Hawks 4 times out of 7. Since 2010(the first cup), in three of the four years the Hawks didn’t win the Cup…they lost in game 7…twice in OT! In fact…if hockey series were the best of 5 rather than best of 7…the Hawks would not have won in any year in which they won the Stanley Cup! A 7 game hockey series takes as much of the randomness out as possible.
These last few weeks people have constantly asked my opinion of the Cubs chances…and my response is always the same-“the 5 game series scares me”. If I knew they would play three seven game series…I would almost be willing to guarantee a title.
Just like my Hawks! (In most years)