I did a podcast with Daniel Shoptaw a couple of weeks ago and the conversation turned to the new wild card format. He asked if I liked the new one-and-done system with the two wild cards battling to see which team gets to face the Number One seed of the division winners. There are several reasons to like the new format. First, it gives much more incentive for teams to win the division. That will prevent a situation like a couple of years ago when the Yankees rested some players down the stretch and settled for the wild card. The new format also keeps fan interest in more cities because there are more chances to reach the playoffs. But both Daniel and I agree that after that initial one-off, the wild card team still has as equal a shot at reaching the World Series as before.
Well, that might not be quite accurate. For one, in that one-game playoff, the wild card team will probably have to use their best pitcher to advance. That gives the division winner a few games before they have to face the wild card team’s ace. And under normal circumstances, the division winner will still have one more home game than the wild card team. But basically, it is still a best of five crap shoot where any team can win.
The other problem is that it lengthens the playoff season which is already too long and a problem with fall weather. So what can be done to give the division winners every chance to hold sway in the playoffs? After all, winning a division should mean something and a team that did not win a division should not have an equal chance to win a series against a division winner.
I’ve kicked around a few ideas in my head for how to give the division winners an advantage. The first idea was to give the division winner the entire series at home with the wild card team having five games on the road to advance. That does give an advantage to the division winners. But it is not really in the best interest of the fans of the wild card team to never experience the playoff excitement. But that is the way it is in the NFL. The wild card team in the NFL never gets a home game throughout the playoffs. So this idea has some merit. If you want home games for the playoffs, win the division! This idea does not shorten the length of the post season though.
The second idea is the most exciting but is also one that would face the most resistance from teams, television networks and the like. But here is the idea: The winner of the wild card game travels to the division winner with the best record (or run differential). They get one game. If they lose, they are done. If they win, they get two more games, both in the division winner’s ballpark. If the wild card team loses two of the three, they are done. But if they win two of three, the series gets extended to five games. If the wild card team wins three of three, they win the series. If the series gets extended to five games, games three and four get to go to the wild card’s home field. If there is a fifth game, the division winner would get the home game.
The reason I like this idea is because the cards are stacked firmly in the division winner’s deck at the beginning. All the division winner has to do is win the first game and they win the series. If they fail to do that, they have to win the next two to win the series–all at their home ballpark. If the division winner loses two of the first three, they still have a chance to come back and win, but they have squandered their advantage and that is too bad. They should have won those early games.
The problems with this idea are fairly obvious. Television networks like to know a schedule and be able to plan their programming. Tough toenails, networks. I know this is all about money. But it should be all about sports. Also, the schedule would stay intact except for the two series between the top seed and the wild card winner. The winner of that series would still have to wait for the other series to finish before the division series are begun anyway.
Wild card teams would scream bloody blue murder because they might not get to enjoy the gate of at least one home playoff game. Again, tough. They should have won the division.
If a wild card team were to advance with this system, they would truly be a Cinderella team and deserve to play in the division series or the World Series. They beat long odds to continue. And that is the point, really. In order for a wild card team to make it all the way, it would have to be against really long odds. And since they did not win a division, the odds should be long. Winning a division should matter. And it should matter enough to be given every early advantage to the division winner in a series against a team that did not win a division.