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MLB Playoffs Should Adopt The NFL Format

Aaron Fischman |
October 5, 2012 | 10:49 p.m. PDT

Senior Sports Editor


Evan Longoria and the Rays would still be alive under my proposed system. (Keith Allison/Creative Commons)
Evan Longoria and the Rays would still be alive under my proposed system. (Keith Allison/Creative Commons)
Major League Baseball should learn a lesson from the National Football League. The NFL’s playoff format not only works well, but adopting its basic framework would improve upon the MLB’s current playoff format.

First off, the one-game wildcard playoff is ridiculously unfair. The Atlanta Braves fought hard for 162 games. Why should their whole season come down to a single game, where anything could happen (and as we saw, a lot of crazy stuff did happen)? I realize the Braves were given the home-field advantage in the one-game playoff, but anyone who understands baseball knows even the best team in the game can lose to the worst team on any given night. 

Since 1995, the best non-division-winning team was guaranteed a best-of-five series. That covenant was broken this year when the top two wild cards were forced into a one–game playoff. One game now can destroy a team’s championship hopes. It doesn’t matter that the Braves won six more games than the Cardinals during the regular season.

Of course, the Braves played miserable defense, which cost them dearly. I’m not disputing that. In addition, the Braves got ripped off by an incorrect infield fly ruling in a critical juncture of the game. All these things aside, in a sport/league that values endurance so heavily, one game should not have such a powerful impact. During the regular season, there are 162 games per team divided into a slew of three and four-game series, for the most part. That’s because baseball is a grind-it-out game. The best team will usually emerge victorious at the end of the series, but not always in the first game. But I digress.

Some writers and fans take issue with the fact that an extra wild card was allowed in this year. Adding extra teams is actually a good thing, given how much parity currently exists in the league. Below is my proposal for a new format for the major league playoffs. It will likely never be adopted, at least not any time soon, and I’ll explain why, but that won’t stop me from arguing why it would be the ideal solution for the teams and the game, as a whole. 

Three wild card teams should make the postseason from each league. Not one, not two, but three. If this were adopted, the Orioles, Rangers and Rays would have all made the playoffs; same with the Braves, Cardinals and Dodgers. And none of this one-game playoff business. The Rays, for example, won 90 games (two more than the AL Central-winning Tigers), including 39 of their last 62 and 12 of their last 14. Despite all this, Tampa Bay was left on the outside looking in. The Tigers, however, benefit from playing in a poor division and were guaranteed a best-of-five series. In my proposed format, the Rays would have gotten in and been guaranteed a best of three.

Under this system, the Yankees would have earned a much-deserved bye. (Keith Allison/Creative Commons)
Under this system, the Yankees would have earned a much-deserved bye. (Keith Allison/Creative Commons)
But most proposals that add wild cards or guarantee the extra wild cards a series disadvantage division winners. Mine would not. I propose that the two best division winners get a bye, just like they do in the NFL. This would mean that the worst division winner (the Tigers and Giants, this season) would face the third wild card in the opening best-of-three round. The middle two wild cards (seeds No. 4 and 5, if you will) would also face off. In the process, the top two division winners in each league would be waiting in the wings. 

Re-seeding would have to occur. So for instance, if the Rays upset the Tigers in their best-of-three series, the AL team with the best record (the Yankees) would then face the worst seed remaining (the Rays) in the ALDS, while the second best division winner (the A’s) would face the other opening-round winner (the Rangers or Orioles).

I’m proposing an opening-round best of three, followed by everything that already occurs (four best-of-five divisional series, two best-of-seven championship series and a best-of-seven World Series).  

Here’s a look at what how my proposal would have looked if it were adopted for this postseason:

AL Byes: (1) Yankees; (2) A’s

AL WC Round (Best of 3): Tigers (3) vs. Rays (6); Rangers (4) vs. Orioles (5) 

ALDS (Best of 5): Yankees vs. Worst seed to advance past WC Round; A’s vs. Other remaining team to advance past WC Round.

ALCS (Best of 7): The winner of each ALDS face off for a trip to the World Series.

NL Byes: (1) Nationals; (2) Reds

NL WC Round (Best of 3): Giants (3) vs. Dodgers (6); Braves (4) vs. Cardinals (5) 

NLDS (Best of 5): Nationals vs. Worst seed to advance past WC Round; Reds vs. Other remaining team to advance past WC Round.

NLCS (Best of 7): The winner of each NLDS play for a World Series berth.  

Why my proposal will never be adopted, at least not any time soon:

1.) Traditionalists don’t want more teams in the playoffs, so three wild cards will be seen as way too much (one or two wild cards is too much for many of them already). Baseball has always been elitist in terms of determining who makes the playoffs. From 1969-1993, only two teams made the postseason from each league. Holding on to antiquated (and obsolete, if I may) traditions is understandable. People are sentimental about their baseball, but this is ridiculous. There is so much parity in the league, and rewarding six teams from each league is more than fair. That’s still only 12 of the 30 teams getting in. By comparison, the NBA has more than half of its teams make the playoffs.

2.) It will be argued that the season is too long already, and that a best-of-three round would only make the long season even longer. That’s true and a way better point than the first one I raised (traditionalists, get out of here!). If I had any say, I would shorten the regular season to 154 games or so. With that said, that’ll never happen, because statistics are central to baseball and 162 games have been played for far too long. Even so, a best-of-three series wouldn’t even add that much more time to the season. Yeah, I understand the season is long as it is, but using a one-game playoff causes much more harm than it does good. A best of three is needed, because as I alluded to earlier, anything can happen in one game. A single game is not a fair indicator of which team is better. 

3.) Finally, my proposed system could disadvantage the top two division-winning teams if you believe in rust. Each of the four division-winning teams (two from each league) would not be competing as they await their opponent. None of the major American sports league award byes for entire series. Yes, rust is a possibility, but the added rest could also serve as a huge benefit given how long and arduous the regular season is. It could provide these teams with a much-needed opportunity to rest their starting pitchers, as well as the remainder of the players' tired legs.

I know my proposal seems crazy, but if adopted it would solve nearly every problem teams, fans and journalists have with the current system. My proposal won’t be adopted any time soon, but I’d love to hear why I’m so wrong about its merits…or why I’m so right. Let me hear it!



Reach Senior Sports Editor Aaron Fischman here or follow him on Twitter.



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