Tuesday night, Washington beat Milwaukee in the National League Wild Card game, and then Wednesday night, Tampa Bay beat Oakland in the American League counterpart.
This marked the eighth season of this expanded structure, where the two best non-division-winners in each league to compete in one-game playoffs, and the winners face the one-seeds. Now that we have seen the good, the bad and the ugly of this, I think it’s time to ask ourselves if this is the best thing for baseball.
It’s not, and I think it’s difficult to argue otherwise, because it goes against all that baseball is.
First, nothing else in baseball is one. Pitchers need three strikes to get a strikeout and three outs to end an inning, and batters need to lay off four pitches to walk, not to mention that they are able to foul an unlimited number of balls out of play without being penalized.
Plus, if a pitcher makes a little mistake to one batter, they can shake it off and redeem themselves with the next batter. And batters get multiple at-bats per game to impact the outcome, so if they strike out once, they can make up for it next time.
But most importantly, the MLB regular season is broken up into series. If you get beat by a rival in the series opener, you’re annoyed, but you know you have the opportunity for revenge the next few days. With the Wild Card game, you lose and the season’s over, regardless of your regular season.
In other words, for four teams, the most important game will be a must-win for no fault of their own. They may have spent months out of the division race and competing for a Wild Card spot, and when they finally clinch, they find themselves stressing over which pitcher should start and searching for the perfect starting lineup.
That’s not baseball. This is a game of second chances, and there are few opportunities for those in one-game playoffs.
One possible solution is to turn the Wild Card round into two best-of-three series, which would better fit the game, because baseball is about winning series, not winning games. This way, everything wouldn’t lie on one game, one starting pitcher and one overall performance.
The league would also benefit from this financially. Expanding the Wild Card round to three games would add another two games to the schedule, and possibly a few more, which would allow the league to make more money from tickets, concessions and TV commercials.