Point Counterpoint

The Major League Baseball Wild Card round was held last weekend. The format introduced the expanded playoff system formulated by the MLB in March. Under it, an additional team from each league qualifies for the postseason, leaving them to compete in a single elimination game. Now that the system has seen action, two contributors weigh in on this new format:

FOR expanded format

Major League Baseball’s expanded playoff structure was designed to engage more baseball markets deeper into the season and to restore more significance to the league’s six divisional titles. With the division winners earning a bye to the Divisional Series, the four Wild Card teams played their single elimination games on Friday.

Let’s first turn back the clock to Sept. 22. With 10 games remaining in the regular season, 11 teams were competing for five remaining playoff spots—all separated by four games or less. An 8-2 run by one team coupled with a 4-6 stretch by another—not inconceivable by any means—would have completely reshaped the playoff picture.

Commissioner Bud Selig must have been grinning ear-to-ear. Over one-third of the league was still playing meaningful baseball well into September. This is precisely what the expanded format sought to accomplish.

In the National League (NL), the Phillies, Dodgers, and Brewers—four organizations that would otherwise have been long cleaning their clubhouses and planning for Spring Training—were all chasing the Cardinals for the second Wild Card position. Their hopes were still alive and their fans were glued to the television and packing the parks.

The American League (AL) races were even more crowded, and the importance of winning the division, rather than settling for the Wild Card, was clear. In those final 10 games, the Oakland Athletics overtook the Texas Rangers for the AL West title and the Detroit Tigers surpassed the Chicago White Sox for the AL Central crown. The Baltimore Orioles, clinging to the second Wild Card spot, and still chasing the New York Yankees, had to fend off the Los Angeles Angels and the Tampa Bay Rays en route to their well-deserved playoff berth.

The Texas Rangers, the two-time defending AL Champions, were forced into a single elimination game against the upstart Orioles. Texas lost that game 5-1 at home, and was left to ponder how they had squandered what was once a 12-game lead over Oakland.

The only blemish on the new format was in the NL Wild Card game between the Atlanta Braves and the St. Louis Cardinals, which was marred by controversy. A questionable infield-fly call in the bottom of the eighth inning helped snuff out a Braves’ rally that would have given them the bases loaded with one out, trailing 6-3. Atlanta went on to lose the game by that same score, throwing into question the legitimacy of the single elimination format.

Regardless,  I love the dual Wild Card system because it creates excitement for more teams down the stretch of the regular season. And although I admit that the single elimination game is less than ideal, a longer series would put the division winners at a disadvantage due to the extended layoff.

Finally, there is nothing in sports more exciting than a do-or-die game—it’s win or go home. Anything can happen; just ask the Braves. Though a one-and-done can be a tough pill to swallow after a grueling 162-game regular season, it still beats not having any post-season opportunities, and magnifies the importance of winning the division rather than coasting to the finish line.

— Trevor Drummond

AGAINST expanded format

When Major League Baseball decided to implement an expanded Wild Card system during the later part of this past offseason, the resulting sense of excitement was palpable in the baseball world. For many, baseball’s narrow eight-team playoff format had been hindering in a sport with a 162-game season. People at the top of the MLB’s brass finally realized that in a sport where parity is paramount, it was time to allow for greater competition.

However, after seeing this past weekend’s chaotic play-in games, can we really say that baseball made the right decision? The brutal in-field fly call, which may have cost the Atlanta Braves their game against the St. Louis Cardinals, makes the idea of these one-and-done games even harder to swallow for passionate baseball fans.

Baseball is a sport of attrition and features a grueling season—the longest of any of the four major North American professional sports. Why is it then that baseball also has the shortest postseason? With this newest format, a team could win the championship with as few as 11 games played.

Extending the playoffs using this current play-in format is a sham. It seems futile for teams such as the Braves, who were coming off a strong closing run to take the top Wild Card spot. The Texas Rangers would have met Baltimore in a one-game playoff to decide the Wild Card under the old system—they would have tied for the one and only playoff spot—so the new arrangement didn’t even create more excitement.

For baseball enthusiasts, keeping the eight-team format makes much more sense. This way, there is an even amount of teams, and the one Wild Card spot remains more coveted. In a sense, it is an elitist perspective in which the regular season matters all the more, in comparison to a league like the NHL, where the regular season is simply a training ground for the long playoff grind that follows. The new Wild Card spot takes away the old-school vibe that baseball had for years.

I propose either removing this showdown and reverting back to the eight-team format all together, or to go even further and expand it to a 12-team format and add another series—similar to what the NFL has done.

It is clear from the expressions of Braves’ Manager Fredi Gonzalez’s face or Rangers’ power hitter Josh Hamilton after their respective games; this format is a disaster. Excellent seasons were ruined by one game featuring a decent amount of luck. In the past, baseball has been a sport for purists. Bud Selig is beginning to mess with the game’s winning formula to appease and excite new fans. This fan is definitely not excited.

— Filippo Furlano

Winner: AGAINST

While the new format keeps more teams in the playoff race further into the season, the single elimination game seems unfair for teams who put together excellent 162-game seasons. One game creates the opportunity for luck to determine the fate of baseball clubs. Therefore, the MLB should rework the expanded playoff system.

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