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Deep thoughts: the Wild Card and pennant races

Sep 10, 2010, 11:59 AM EDT

Jayson Stark spends an awful lot of time in his latest column explaining how adding a second wild card team in each league would fix the problem of division races like that in the AL East being basically meaningless.  He goes so far as to sketch out how it would work mechanically, how the schedule would break down and everything.

Here’s a concept: the Yankees-Rays race would be totally awesome and meaningful if there was no wild card to begin with.

But hey, if you want to further dilute the only major sport playoff that actually keeps bad teams out the vast majority of the time, by all means, go for it.

  1. andrewlw - Sep 10, 2010 at 12:06 PM

    “Here’s a concept: the Yankees-Rays race would be totally awesome and meaningful if there was no wild card to begin with.”
    I agree with this 100%.
    If they ever expand the playoffs I think I would honestly stop watching at the end of the regular season. The playoffs are already too long imo. Coupled with the late start times, October is such a draining month. Maybe at the start of the playoffs you are “lucky” and your team gets the afternoon game and you have to get sick.

  2. Panda_Claus - Sep 10, 2010 at 12:14 PM

    If you don’t like Stark’s idea, then you probably won’t like what Buster Olney suggested on Mike and Mike this morning.
    Olney proposed eliminating divisions entirely (saying it used to be that way for 90 years), and also said 5 playoff teams from each league is the way to go. And he went one beyond that, saying “maybe” add a 6th and have a one-game playoff between #5 and #6 to add more drama.
    I’m not against another team or two, given that may be the only way my Orioles ever again see playoff action. Not sure how the traditionally lower spending Central division teams from either league would feel about being mixed in with the higher spending teams.
    Although Olney didn’t say specifically, I’m presuming he would advocate a balanced schedule with his revised “uni division” leagues. That might create more hard selling for the West Coast teams since they’d have to travel East more often.
    Lost in all this, can anyone actually believe the slothly Bud Selig would ever make a bold move like this while he’s still “in charge” (and I use that term lightly)?

  3. minnesconsin_ad - Sep 10, 2010 at 12:28 PM

    Just another point I totally agree with you on… As Stark points out, Tom Verducci’s “How to fix the playoffs” piece appeared this week as well and is filled with very similar nonsense:

    http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/2010/writers/tom_verducci/09/07/playoff.format/index.html

    The thing I dislike most about Verducci’s perspective is that it’s so closely tied to the goal of gaining better TV rankings throughout the playoff series. I don’t CARE about the tv ratings, I want the base baseball possible, period. And watering down the playoffs is just about the worst possible way to achieve that, in my opionion.

    Why not take steps to modify the current playoff system? The first step should be to do away with the rule that prevents teams from the same division playing eachother in the divisional round. This, to me, is a huge reason for the lack of motivation to win the division when the wild card is already safely in your pocket. If I’m the Rays, I’d be a lot more motivated to win my division if I’m faced with the threat of having to play my first series on the road against the Yanks.

  4. Ari Collins - Sep 10, 2010 at 12:42 PM

    It’s one thing to be the most selective sport. But without the wild card, we’d have a lot of great teams not making the playoffs. The wild card is often the second or third best team in the league, and the playoffs would be far less entertaining if you get rid of the WC and lower the quality of teams making it to October.

    That said, it does take some of the fun out of the regular season. According to BP, there are only two teams with between a 25% and 75% chance at the playoffs (the Padres and Giants). Everyone else is either pretty sure they’re in or pretty sure they’re not. If Bud simply decided right this very moment that only the six division leaders would make it in, suddenly the Rays and Yankees and Phillies and Braves would be in meaningful races.

    But I would still rather make sure all four of those teams are playing in October. They not only deserve it, but we do too.

  5. Detroit Michael - Sep 10, 2010 at 12:43 PM

    Shawn Hoffman on 9/2/2010 at BaseballProspectus.com had a graph in his article pointing out that September attendance has increased more than it has in any other month since the wild care era began. It was pretty persuasive evidence that adding the wild card was the right business decision.

  6. Chris Fiorentino - Sep 10, 2010 at 1:08 PM

    All the so-called “excitement” that would be added by adding another wild card in the AL would be completely sucked out in the NL as there would be almost nothing to root for the rest of the way, unless you think the Cardinals can make up 4 1/2 games on the Giants the rest of the way. As it stands now, the Phillies, Braves, Giants, and Padres are within 2 games of each other and are fighting for 3 playoff spots. If that’s not enough excitement, then I don’t know what is…especially since the teams play each other so much down the stretch. Look at the last weekend of the year…Phillies at Atlanta and Padres at Giants. If the Cardinals don’t get back into it, those games would be almost meaningless if there were two wild card games.
    I usually agree with Jayson, but find his logic very weak here.

  7. birdmancometh - Sep 10, 2010 at 1:13 PM

    “…adding the wild card was the right business decision.” I don’t think anyone would argue against that and it’s why they’ll keep adding more playoff teams (and why the other sports already have). Unfortunately it’s just not best for the game itself. Not that that matters anymore.

  8. birdmancometh - Sep 10, 2010 at 1:14 PM

    don’t forget about the Rockies…

  9. doctorfunke - Sep 10, 2010 at 1:14 PM

    Many of the Wild Card teams have had great success in the playoffs, too. There just isn’t a drastic dropoff there. But the more teams you add, the lower the quality will be. Some people like to see the upsets, but there still needs to be some motivation during the regular season, too.
    I like it how it is. But I’d like to see the LDS changed to Best-of-7.

  10. Ari Collins - Sep 10, 2010 at 1:26 PM

    Very much agreed on that. Although my Red Sox have done very well in the ALDS in the WC era, plenty of good teams have been bounced out early in the short series.

  11. Spudchukar - Sep 10, 2010 at 1:41 PM

    An easier fix would go like this. Extend the first round of the playoffs to 7 games, it is a travesty now that a team can win 90+ games in a 162 game season and have 3 defeats knock them out. Then penalize the wild card team, and only allow them to have 2 home games of 7. Probably a 2-2-3 format. This would make the wild-card teams less likely to advance in the playoffs, which is only fair, and would make the best record in each league a real target. There are flaws to this system, but it sure would alleviate the much talked about Yankee/Rays controversy.

  12. Adenzeno - Sep 10, 2010 at 2:03 PM

    Add 2 teams to MLB- 4 divisions of 8 teams each-154 game schedule-4 winners make the playoffs- I think it would be fun if the leagues were regional wi no interldivisional play- I know tis will never happen, but owners would save $$ on travel costs- regional divisions create/continue rivalries Ex-The NE division(named whatever..) Yanks, Mets, Red Sox,Phils,Nationals,Orioles, Marlins, Rays.

  13. Son of Shane Mack - Sep 10, 2010 at 3:20 PM

    No no no.
    The price of having a “Wild Card” team at all is that it has the potential to make pennant races less meaningful. That’s it. Adding more “wild cards” isn’t going to improve this, it’s going to make meaningful pennant races even more rare.
    The only reason is that it’s the Yankees involved. The two best teams often come from the AL East, and there’s often not a real pennant race because of the wild card system. How is this either a “new” problem or an “urgent” problem? It happens somewhere almost every year.

  14. Detroit Michael - Sep 10, 2010 at 4:58 PM

    Well if attendance increases are especially up in September, that’s not just good for the owners but also for the fans.
    As a Tiger fan, I’m glad for their 2006 play-off run. It wouldn’t have happened without the wild card. Yes, I was very skeptical about it for years but the data says it’s helped.

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