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.

Yankees decide to keep Luis Severino on regular rest, give Twins potential Wild Card preview

AP Photo/Frank Franklin II
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Yankees starter Luis Severino pitched last Friday, putting him on track to start Wednesday’s series finale against the Twins. The Yankees mulled the possibility of pushing him back to start on Friday against the Blue Jays after an off day on Thursday so that the Twins wouldn’t get an early look at Severino in a potential AL Wild Card matchup.

However, MLB.com’s Bryan Hoch reports that Severino will indeed start on Wednesday against the Twins instead of Masahiro Tanaka. Hoch adds that Severino’s preference is to pitch on regular rest.

Severino, 23, has been the Yankees’ best starter this year and would be the most reliable arm in a must-win game. The right-hander is carrying a 13-6 record with a 2.93 ERA and a 218/49 K/BB ratio in 184 1/3 innings.

Entering Tuesday’s action, the Yankees hold a five-game lead over the Twins for the first Wild Card slot. The Angels hold a 1.5-game lead over the Angels for the second slot. The Yankees are also very much in the AL East race, trailing the Red Sox by only three games with 12 games left in the regular season.

You should probably pay attention to Matt Olson

Associated Press
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The claim of “East Coast Bias” is often hurled as an accusation of smug superiority, and it’s often met with denial, but it’s a thing. It’s not the exact thing the west coast people think it is — it’s not hate, it’s just a function of time zones and TV ratings — but there are certainly factors that cause stuff that happens in California to get shorter shrift than that which happens back east, where most of the national media people are.

One thing getting short shrift this year: the performance of Oakland A’s first baseman Matt Olson, which one has to imagine would be getting all kinds of press if he played back east.

Wait, we don’t have to imagine that at all. Because Olson is doing basically the exact same thing Yankees catcher Gary Sanchez did last year, and Sanchez got tons of headlines for it while I’m guessing most baseball fans who either (a) live outside of the Bay Area; or (b) aren’t big fantasy players, attuned to all of the latest callups, haven’t heard Olson’s name much if at all . Their respective lines:

  • Sanchez 2016: 53 games, .299/.376/.657, 20 HR, 168 OPS+
  • Olson 2017: 54 games, .267/.360/.663, 22 HR 168 OPS+

Sanchez’s rate stats were better but Olson is doing it in tougher parks for hitters. Obviously Sanchez is catching and Olson playing the corner, but a dude coming out of the minors to put up these kinds of numbers in the final two months of the season is rare. That it’s happening again, in almost the same way, is quite the thing.

Part of the reason for the discrepancy in press is that Sanchez was making a strong argument for the Rookie of the Year Award despite playing less than half the season whereas Olson has no shot given what Aaron Judge has done this year. But I’m guessing more of it is simply a function of Olson’s games starting at 10:30 or so back east and most of us not seeing what he does unless we look at the box scores the next day.

Still, Olson, the A’s first round pick from 2012, is not someone to sleep on. And, given that he hit 23 homers in 79 minor league games this year — the last guy to hit 20 in both the bigs and minors in the same year was Giancarlo Stanton — he’s not a fluke. Indeed, he’s one of the few rays of sunshine for the Oakland Athletics. And someone to whom us folks back east should pay a bit more attention.