New Playoff Structure a Swing and a Miss

Let's get right to the heart of the matter: while Bud Selig's new expanded playoffs has resulted in some extra hope in September, it has left open the potential for some serious competitive unfairness in October.

Consider the National League, where on Friday the Atlanta Braves will have to play a one-game playoff for their lives against the St. Louis Cardinals, which will have finished at least five games back in the standings of Atlanta despite playing in a much weaker division.

Now consider this — Instead of the full playoff series Atlanta would have earned in previous years, Chipper Jones' final Major League Baseball game could be a sudden death match-up against Kyle Lohse (16-3 with NL top five ERA and WHIP at 2.86 and 1.09, respectively).

Seem fair?

Or consider the American League. The final race for the AL East between the Yankees and Orioles, combined with the A's and Rangers in the West, made for some exciting scoreboard watching these past few weeks. And in previous years, one of those three teams would have found themselves on the outside looking in, which would have sucked for them, but that's baseball. In 1993, the 103-win Giants missed the playoffs behind the 104-win Braves in the pre-realignment NL West.

Now the Yankees, Orioles, A's, and Rangers all make it, but not really. Baltimore, on the heels of an incredible resurgence, a 162-game grind up the ladder of relevance, may live their playoff dream for a paltry nine innings. That's it. One night only. Thanks for coming. Enjoy the winter. See you in February.

That's not playoff baseball. That's just-the-tip baseball.

Many (Jayson Stark) will complain about the ridiculous scheduling Selig's new idea will bring, and that's all well and fine. With 48 hours before the one-game playoff, we still didn't even know which of the two AL teams would be in the game. But the far greater issue is that baseball just doesn't fit in a one-game-winner-take-all package.

Baseball is a marathon of ups and downs, twists and turns. It's not like football, where talent is far more likely to prevail in an all-in situation. Baseball playoff series are about match-ups and bullpens and bloopers and bad hops. One game is not necessarily indicative of a team's true abilities. Sometimes that ball just doesn't fall your way, but those things have a tendency to even out over a full series.

In a one-game series, there is no evening out. There is just a few hours of play, and you better hope the gods of luck are with you that day, because everything you've done over the past eight months could come down to a broken-bat bleeder that somehow finds the hole. It's one thing if that happens in a Game 7, where each team has won three and earned their way. But this ain't that.

The 1927 Yankees lost 44 games, including several to Boston, which went 51-103 that season. Obviously the Red Sox would not have made a hypothetical one-game playoff, but the point is that in baseball, more so than any other sport, any team can beat any other team in one game.

The Cardinals don't belong in this year's playoffs. They've had an incredibly inconsistent year and will finish with 88 wins at best. (Oddly, that's actually better than their 2011 and 2006 World Series teams.) But more than this being about St. Louis, this is about Atlanta. The Braves deserve a full series, one where having a deep bullpen and great defense actually matter. Those things show up over five or seven games. Over one? Maybe, maybe not.

Doesn't quite seem fair.

Maybe it will all work out and the Braves will advance. But maybe the Cardinals' bats are just hot that day, and Lohse works through an Atlanta offense that is by far the worst of the five NL playoff teams.

Bye, Chipper. Sorry it had to end this way. See you in Cooperstown.

Selig has made risky changes to the game in his tenure, and you can argue he's had more hits than misses. But this one seems like a step too far.

I guess we'll see Friday night.

Comments and Conversation

October 6, 2012

Anthony Brancato:

The new wild card round needs to be mended - not ended. Make it a best-of-three; and while you’re at it, make the Division Series best-of-seven.

Then, to make sure we won’t be watching the World Series while we’re eating our Thanksgiving turkey, roll back the regular season to the traditional 154 games, which should please the “purists” - if anything can.

October 6, 2012

JD:

Agree that would be an improvement. At least then you wouldn’t have this:

“It stinks, man,” said Braves catcher David Ross after his team’s surreal, season-ending 6-3 loss. “It stinks for Chipper that that’s how this is going to be remembered. It stinks that the first-ever wild-card game is going to be remembered for an infield pop-up blunder. That’s not good.”

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