Tuck: Fixing The MLB Wild Card

For the record, I think one-game playoffs are awesome.  One-n-done, do-or-die, or sudden-death all work for me.  Sometimes in sports we complain about the lack of urgency the athletes show.  These kinds of games and moments give us exactly what we want.  Desperation.  Emotion.  Effort.

However, I do understand the complaints from both players and fans about this new (as of last year) one-game wild card playoff.

Cincinnati Reds 2nd basemen Brandon Phillips was asked about his team celebrating making the playoffs.  Phillips response was pretty clear.  “Are we going to go crazy?  Hell, no. I don’t want to do none of that crap.  Sorry to cuss.  I want to wait until the nitty gritty until I know what we’ve really won, know we’re going to the real postseason.”

“We aren’t clinching anything for a one-game playoff, that’s kind of stupid,” said Phillips. “If you pour champagne on your body and then you lose that one-game playoff you’ll look like a dummy.  I don’t want to look like that.  I’ll celebrate when we know we’re going to play the Atlanta Braves or the Los Angeles Dodgers in the playoffs. Popping bottles for a one-game playoff is stupid.”

Of course, with the old format of 4 teams, Phillips’ Reds would have just been sitting home watching the postseason as the first team out.

Fans and media feel have expressed similar opinions and concerns.  They cite how you fight for 162 games to just get one game, one shot to advance?  In one game, crazy things can happen.  A lesser team could have a better starting pitcher and win based on one guy.  Baseball, above any other professional sport, has the most level playing field.  In one game, the Astros (the worst team in baseball this year) could beat the Red Sox (the team with the best record).

The problem baseball has is that it is on a time crunch because of the weather.  People already complain the season is too long.  It starts in the cold, and often times the snow, and ends much same, now creeping into November of all things.  These are supposed to be the “boys of summer.”  Expanding the playoff only further complicates that.  Shrinking the regular season isn’t a real option in this statistically-obsessed sport.

How do you play a best of 3 or 5 in the wild card game without dealing with the logistics of travel and extending the season even deeper?  Cleveland to Tampa and back to Cleveland isn’t exactly ideal in 3 days.  Even worse if you get a season where it’s a team on the west coast and east coast.

So, my answer is, play a 3-game series at the team with the better record.  Tampa Bay goes to Cleveland for a best of 3 in their house.  The Reds spend 3 days in Pittsburgh if necessary.

It eliminates some of the randomness of a one-game playoff while finishing off in 2 or 3 days.  Start both series on Wednesday (so to avoid any tiebreaker confusion on Monday and/or Tuesday.  They’ll wrap up on Thursday or Friday.  Have two networks involved or one if you prefer double-header action.  The division series involving the #2 and #3 seeds start on Saturday in both leagues.  And the division series involving the wild card teams and the top seed start on Sunday.

It cuts down on travel, and only knocks the schedule as is back a day.  Sure, it’s a bigger advantage to be the higher wild card seed, but don’t you think the Reds would prefer that option than the current format?

I think the wild card game, the extra team in the playoffs, is a great thing for baseball.  By simply adding another game (or two) it makes both teams feel more involved in the postseason, as opposed to just playing an extended regular season winner-take-all game.