I’ve been going on for years about how the playoffs are a total crap shoot and how they rarely if ever guarantee that the best team makes it to the World Series, let alone wins it. Of course, I’m also a Braves fan, so it’s fair for you to ask whether or not my complaints are valid ones or if they’re merely post-hoc justifications for 1993. And 1996. And 1997-2003 while we’re at it.
But there are a lot of folks without my biases and pain who feel the same way. Like Mariano Rivera, Mike Scioscia, Brian Cashman, Scott Boras, Joe Girardi, CC Sabathia and a bunch of other people in the game who think that the system could use some tweaking:
Whether it’s fear or just a perception that the playoffs are unfair, in recent years players, managers and team executives have been growing more frustrated with the three-round playoff format, which made its debut in 1995.
“The Yankees have 26 world championships,” Yankees general manager Brian Cashman says. “If we had played all of those years with divisions and wild cards, we would not have 26 world championships. This is much more perilous, a lot more combustible.” . . . I’m telling you, it’s not fair,” says Los Angeles Angels center fielder Torii Hinter, whose team again faces the Boston Red Sox, a year after finishing with baseball’s best record and losing to them in the opening round. “You look at the Kansas City Royals, and they can still beat you twice in three games. The same thing can happen in the playoffs. It might be good for Vegas, but it’s bad for baseball. Who wants to see a fluke win the World Series?”
There are all kinds of suggestions in the article regarding how to fix things. Mike Scioscia thinks that the wild card team should play Game 1 at home and the next four on the road. Girardi thinks it should be 2-1-2, with the wild card team the middle game at home. Scott Boras — the last guy you’d ever think would worry about competitive balance — thinks that the wild card team should play the entire first round on the road. Others think that there should be two wild card teams with a play in series, thereby weakening them for the division series, while others still think the first round should be the best of seven.
After last night’s drama, I’d be on board for a regular play-in game or series, but it’s not like we can push out the playoffs any further. I mean really, the World Series is already ending in November this year. Maybe the best way to accommodate that would be to schedule more doubleheaders during the season and end the regular season a week earlier. That would certainly reward team depth the way everyone seems to want to, even if it put a dent in TV ratings.
In the end though, we have to acknowledge that a lot of this really is whining. Sure, it’s maybe not fair on some abstract level that a 100 win team could be punted in three games by an 83 win team, but these are the playoffs and that’s just how it goes. We can tweak here and there, but in the end, there is no practical way to make any short series approximate the conditions of 162 game season. The division winners and we 1990s Braves apologists are just going to have to deal with that.
UPDATE: More potential unfairness.