Are the playoffs fair?

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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.

The Padres non-tendered RHP Tyson Ross

SAN DIEGO, CALIFORNIA - APRIL 04:  Tyson Ross #38 of the San Diego Padres walks off the field as he's taken out of the game in the sixth inning of a baseball game against the Los Angeles Dodgers on opening day at PETCO Park on April 4, 2016 in San Diego, California.  (Photo by Denis Poroy/Getty Images)
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Per a report by MLB.com’s AJ Cassavell, the Padres non-tendered right-handed starter Tyson Ross on Friday, cutting loose their top ace after three seasons with the club.

Ross, 29, was sidelined for the bulk of the season with inflammation in his right shoulder and underwent thoracic outlet surgery in October. His injuries limited him to only 5 1/3 innings in 2016, during which he gave up seven runs and struck out five in a 15-0 blowout against the Dodgers.

Prior to his lengthy stint on the disabled list, the right-hander earned 9.5 fWAR and pitched to a 3.07 ERA and 9.2 K/9 rate in three full seasons with the Padres. He avoided arbitration with a one-year, $9.625 million deal prior to the 2016 season after leading the league with 33 starts and delivering a 3.26 ERA and career-best 4.4 WARP over 196 innings in 2015.

The Padres appear open to bringing Ross back to San Diego, reported Cassavell, albeit not at such a steep cost. Cassavell quoted Padres’ GM A.J. Preller, who was reportedly in trade talks involving Ross but unable to strike a deal, likely due to the right-hander’s recent health issues. Preller denied that those same health issues factored into the club’s decision to non-tender their ace.

With the move, Ross became one of 35 major leaguers to enter free agency on Friday.

Angels’ Pujols has foot surgery, could be sidelined 4 months

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ANAHEIM, Calif. — Los Angeles Angels slugger Albert Pujols had surgery on his right foot Friday, possibly sidelining him past opening day.

Angels general manager Billy Eppler said Pujols had the procedure Friday in North Carolina to release his plantar fascia, the ligament connecting the heel to the toes. The three-time NL MVP was bothered by plantar fasciitis repeatedly during the season, but played through the pain in arguably the strongest year of his half-decade with the Angels.

Eppler said the surgery typically prevents players from participating in baseball activities for three months, along with another month before they’re ready to resume playing in games. Opening day for Los Angeles is April 3, and the Angels hope Pujols can be ready.

“He’s at that point in his career where he’s keenly aware of what’s happening with his body,” Eppler said in a phone interview. “I don’t put the timetable on Albert like you would with your younger players. We’ll just see in Albert’s case, as he progresses, what his timetable is.”

Pujols, who turns 37 next month, batted .268 last year with 31 homers and 119 RBIs, the fourth-most in the majors – although his .780 OPS was among the worst of his career. He largely served as a designated hitter instead of playing first base due to problems with his hamstrings and feet.

Pujols heads into 2017 with 591 career homers, ranking him ninth in major league history. He is 18 homers behind Sammy Sosa for eighth place.

After playing in pain until the final week of the Angels’ disappointing season, Pujols began shock wave therapy on his foot early in the offseason, believing he wouldn’t need surgery.

But Pujols’ foot became more painful in recent weeks despite the therapy, and he huddled with the Angels’ top brass to decide on surgery after his most recent trip to see Dr. Robert Anderson in North Carolina. Continuing with conservative care would have required 10 more weeks, forcing Pujols to miss the first half of the 2017 season if he still required surgery.

“He just felt that the pain had gotten to a point where he was comfortable” having surgery, Eppler said. “If we did delay it, you’re just looking at 2 1/2 more months into the season.”

Pujols had a different type of surgery on his right foot last winter, but recovered in time for opening day. He also had plantar fasciitis in his left foot during the 2013 season, eventually forcing him out for the year when his fascia snapped.

Pujols has five years and $140 million remaining on the 10-year, $240 million free-agent contract that pried him out of St. Louis, where he won two World Series and became a nine-time NL All-Star.

The Angels haven’t won a playoff game since Pujols’ arrival and Mike Trout‘s concurrent emergence as one of baseball’s best players. They went 74-88 last season, the injury-plagued club’s worst record since 1999.