Skip to content

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

Nov 18, 2011, 10:36 AM EDT

Bud Selig Reuters

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.

127 Comments (Feed for Comments)
  1. theonlynolan - Nov 18, 2011 at 1:48 PM

    I wish there were a way to directly reply to comments on my phone. To say that middle infielders and catchers need DHs too because they cant hit is a ridiculous assertion. The average pitcher’s OPS is far lower than any other position player and to say otherwise is to deny reality. Citing Zambrano, Gallardo and a half dozen other pitchers who can handle the stick and using that as evidence that pitchers can hit ignores 95 percent of the plate appearances from the position. It’s laughable to suggest a pitcher laying down a sac bunt or managing to extend an at bat to 5 or 6 pitches is more exciting than Ortiz, Napoli, Thome, or Guerrero hitting a baseball. And to claim it’s tradition that the two leagues play by separate rules ignores that the DH position was first created almost 100 years after the National League was formed.

    • JBerardi - Nov 18, 2011 at 1:51 PM

      But sac bunts are exciting!

    • paperlions - Nov 18, 2011 at 2:03 PM

      The point is that it isn’t required for pitchers to not be able to hit…to me, the better solution is for pitchers to learn how to hit just like every other player….not to have lumbering oafs pinch hit for them.

      • theonlynolan - Nov 18, 2011 at 2:28 PM

        It’s hard enough for a pitcher to be good at pitching. Telling him he should figure out how to hit above .200 in addition to his regular pitching duties is unrealistic. Unless I’m mistaken minor leagues don’t have their pitchers bat either. So there’s no real opportunity for these pitchers to practice against live arms. If the teams wanted them to hit they would’ve been signed as a position player rather than a pitcher.

      • Kevin S. - Nov 18, 2011 at 2:33 PM

        Too bad we have a hundred years of history telling us this doesn’t happen. The specialization of the pitcher role rendered a pitcher’s ability to hit insignificant.

      • Jonny 5 - Nov 18, 2011 at 3:38 PM

        Why does every player need to be good at hitting anyway? That pitcher who really isn’t all that great at hitting adds strategy whether you like it or not. Do we pinch hit for him? is it too early in the game to lose him and depend on the bull pen? Do we walk the guy in front of him with 2 outs expecting to get him out? Having no DH with the pitcher hitting is more true to the game, everyone who picks up a bat also plays defense, with a glove. It is how it should be.

    • Jonny 5 - Nov 18, 2011 at 2:17 PM

      If you play offense, you also need to play defense. If you’re substituted for, you stay out of the game. it’s simple. This whole pinch hitting for the pitcher but letting him stay in the game just seems like cheating to me….

      • paperlions - Nov 18, 2011 at 2:53 PM


        Pitchers used to hit okay, in fact, not much worse than catchers or SS…then at some point it became okay for them to not be able to hit at all. Pitchers can only work on pitching so much….in no way would that work interfere with the ability to work on their hitting. They simply aren’t required to do it. Everybody has to play offense and defense except for AL pitchers and DHs, if everybody else can do it….so can those guys.

      • stlouis1baseball - Nov 18, 2011 at 4:30 PM

        That is exactly what I stated earlier Jonny. You field. You throw. You hit.
        I will never understand why they concept is so confusing to people.
        Baseball includes fielding…throwing…and hitting.
        You field. You throw. You hit.

      • stex52 - Nov 18, 2011 at 5:59 PM

        You can write me off as a disgruntled Houston fan, but I think the logic above is right. Now that there will be interleague play every day, there will not be two sets of rules. DH will win. I am not happy about it, but I now think it is just a matter of (a short) time. I’m with you other NL guys in thinking it takes a big part out of the game. But it’s all about more money.

        Like adding wild cards until we are like pro basketball. We will eventually play the season to eliminate half the times.

      • Kevin S. - Nov 18, 2011 at 10:45 PM

        Pitchers used to hit okay, in fact, not much worse than catchers or SS…then at some point it became okay for them to not be able to hit at all.

        No, they didn’t. Not ever. At their best, pitchers had aggregate wRC+s in the low forties. The last time they were above forty was 1920, back when pitchers pitched a greater portion of games (and by extension, batted a greater portion). They’ve been in the positive double digits once since 1960. Catchers, on the other hand, started out in the seventies and now generally sit in the high eighties to low nineties. But sure, let’s pretend there was once only a small difference between pitchers and catchers.

  2. stex52 - Nov 18, 2011 at 6:16 PM

    Make that “teams.”

  3. humanexcrement - Nov 19, 2011 at 12:29 AM

    This is going to result in the problem the NFL has. I call it the 2010 Seattle Seahawks Conundrum. Sooner or later, probably in the first year, we’re going to see a craptastic team with a .500 or sub-.500 record getting into the playoffs. I HATE IT, absolutely HATE it when an 8-8 team or, as in the case last year, a 7-9 team gets into the playoffs while a team with 10 or 11 wins stays home because the NFL has too many divisions. Something similar will happen in baseball–a team a second-place team that still has 90 or 100 wins is going to have to play some mediocre squad like Oakland or Cleveland just to get into the actual playoffs. Read Joe Posnanski’s article on the subject, in which he winds back the clock and shows what kind of half-assed, lame duck teams would have made it to that one-game playoff simply because somebody would have had to. There simply aren’t always five baseball teams in each league that are playoff caliber. Four, yes. But five? If you’re only the fifth-best team in the league, do you really deserve a one-game shot to upset a team that is potentially actually better than the winners of other divisions? I vote no, but of course no one consulted me on the issue. This isn’t like the DH rule, which we can easily reconcile. Don’t like the DH rule? Don’t watch the AL. Don’t like pitcher batting? Don’t watch the NL. But this doesn’t give us that option. Some really good teams are going to lose their whole season because their fourth starter had a bad day.

    • sarcasticks - Nov 19, 2011 at 7:27 PM

      Don’t forget that the Seahawks BEAT the Saints in the first round of the playoffs. The Seahawks got in, and made the most of it. If there’s not always five playoff caliber teams, what makes you think there are always four? And how do you define “playoff caliber.”

      Yes, some things that people feel are injustices will happen. The Phillies had the best record in baseball last year and their victories over the Braves at the end of the season got the Cardinals into the playoffs. And of course, we know what happened after that.

      There’s no justice in sports. No one deserves anything. More teams and more do or die games equals more excitement and a better product. If you want tradition you can always go watch the local men’s league Saturday softball games.

  4. sarcasticks - Nov 19, 2011 at 7:18 PM

    Change is good. Everything changes. Holding on to old, stagnant ideas with the simple reasoning of tradition is foolish. People are almost always resistant to change at first. It makes them uncomfortable. But we will all get used to the new format. And in a few years’ time we’ll get a good feeling on how the game has gotten better, or worse because of it. If it really does turn out badly, baseball can always change again. That’s life.

  5. skeealaska - Nov 20, 2011 at 5:31 AM

    Craig, I pretty much agree with everything you say but lets face it, one only has to listen to The Bud speak to realize stupid is as stupid does. No one but The Bud could have come up with the All-Star joke of assigning WS home field advantage based on an exhibition game. Style over substance, that would be The Bud. Some day we are gonna have a 120 win team v. an 81 game winner and the 81’s will get home field. Dunceville personified. Yeah, and The Bud be like, “See, my idea works!” Kinda like the trending of society these days, rewards for mediocrity vs. accomplishment.

Leave Comment

You must be logged in to leave a comment. Not a member? Register now!

Top 10 MLB Player Searches
  1. B. Crawford (2761)
  2. Y. Puig (2430)
  3. C. Correa (2394)
  4. G. Stanton (2368)
  5. G. Springer (2275)
  1. H. Pence (2195)
  2. J. Hamilton (2093)
  3. M. Teixeira (1884)
  4. H. Ramirez (1874)
  5. J. Fernandez (1857)