The Expanded Playoffs or: How I learned to stop worrying and love the wild card

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I’ve been trying to process yesterday’s announcement — which we knew was coming for a long time — that a playoff team will be added in each league, possibly as soon as next season.  I’ve been against the idea for some time and, from a purely baseball perspective, I still don’t like it.  But I can’t bring myself to muster any outrage. All I can do is nod and say “Oh well. Now let’s do this new thing.”

To be clear, I do think that adding a playoff team and making a one-game playoff between the wild card winners every year is jarring and gimmicky.  It’s the polar opposite to everything a long 162-game schedule represents. It’s akin to having marathon runners stop at 26.1 miles and then decide the winner with a double-dutch competition.

But if there is any lesson to be learned from the past few years which saw multiple one-game playoffs and that bananas last night of this season, it’s OK to just go nuts sometimes. One of the things I’m learning as I get older is that not everything needs to be reconciled. You can live with some degree of sub-optimization and endure a little cognitive dissonance and the world will not end.  Yeah, that’s a potentially fatal realization for a person who’s supposed to offer sharp opinions about everything. I’ll try to make up for it when the Hall of Fame inductions are announced. But for now I’m kind of OK with it.

Besides, I am sort of cottoning to the notion that the one-game playoff — for all of its ills — does make winning the division more important. As it was, the wild card winner didn’t have much of a penalty to it. Now it does.  The fact that a 92-win wild card winner may fall victim to an 86-win wild card winner in one silly game isn’t ideal, but I don’t think the world will end either.

Ultimately, though, it makes little sense to argue against expanded playoffs from a “this will make for bad baseball” perspective.  That’s because we have to accept that this was not a bad baseball decision as such.  No one at Major League Baseball looked at this and said “yes, that will improve the game!”  It was totally about TV and hype and commercialism.  The ability to sell a winner-takes-all game with 100% certainty that it will, in fact, happen.  Even Bud Selig has admitted that baseball’s partners in the media had a lot to do with this.  He doesn’t truly believe this is an organic or wholly positive baseball development so I’m not going to waste my breath tearing such an erroneous position down.

It’s happening. It’s not ideal. But it’s not disastrous either.  We may even actually have a lot of fun with it.  So I think I’ll keep my powder dry for something else.

A.J. Hinch: “We’ll use every pitcher in Game 7 if we have to”

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It’s not entirely clear why the Astros threw Ken Giles into the ninth inning of Game 6 of the ALCS. With a six-run advantage and the bottom half of the Yankees’ lineup due up, pushing the series to its seven-game capacity looked like a sure bet. Giles may be one of Houston’s better bullpen arms, but he’s not their only option, and it would have made more sense to keep him fresh for a do-or-die Game 7 on Saturday night.

Of course, there’s no such thing as a sure bet when it comes to postseason baseball. That’s more or less what Astros’ manager A.J. Hinch had to say after the game, telling reporters that he had envisioned a quick three outs from his closer as they tried to pull back from the brink of elimination. “We didn’t have the luxury of limping into that inning,” Hinch said. “We’ve seen how these guys can explode in these innings.”

It’s not difficult to recall the Yankees’ explosive drive in the eighth inning of Game 4, when they exploited the holes in Houston’s ‘pen and evened the series with Gary Sanchez‘s go-ahead double off of Giles. Back home in Minute Maid Park, however, there was a slightly different feel to the eighth and ninth innings of Game 6. Jose Altuve led off the eighth with a solo home run, followed by Alex Bregman‘s two-run double and Evan Gattis‘ sac fly. In the ninth, Giles labored through a 23-pitch outing to lock down the win, handing out a base hit and a seven-pitch walk before eventually whiffing Chase Headley on three straight pitches for the last out.

So, while Hinch’s decision to lean on Giles in Game 6 may have felt wasteful, his concerns were not entirely unfounded. He’s prepared to roll with the same strategy during Saturday’s series finale, too, leaving nothing on the table as the Astros battle for their first World Series showdown since 2005. According to Dallas Keuchel, that means all hands on deck — except for Justin Verlander, whose four wins, 24 strikeouts and 1.46 postseason ERA have gotten the Astros as far as he could possibly be expected to take them. “No pitcher is going to be in the dugout,” said Keuchel. “They’re all going to be in the bullpen, myself included. Any way we can help out, we’re trying to get to the World Series, the same way the Yankees are, and that’s a nice feeling to have.”

Does that mean Giles will be available for a Game 7 appearance? Stranger things have happened. Joe Sheehan notes that the right-hander has pitched in back-to-back days 13 times this year, though he’s never thrown as many as 23 pitches on Day 1. Granted, he likely doesn’t have enough left in the tank for another 20+ pitch run on Saturday, but with the World Series on the line, any help he can offer will be invaluable.