When MLB announced the inclusion of a second wild card team in early 2012, I wasn’t a big fan. At the time, the Indians couldn’t even dream about a wild card slot, so the whole thing seemed like a theoretical exercise. After this post-season, I’m still not a fan of the new format. When the league moved to three divisions in 1995, the addition of a single wild card team in each league was something of a necessity. You need four teams, not three, to play a fair league championship. The addition of a second wild card team and the one-game playoff still strikes me as an exercise in money grubbing as opposed to expanding opportunities for more teams to participate in the playoffs.
You could argue that this season, we saw two one-game playoffs–the tiebreaker between the Rays and the Rangers and the actual wild card game between the Indians and the Rays. It may sound like sour grapes to say I don’t like the second wild card because my team lost in the one-game format. If the old rules were still in place, the Indians would have simply played Boston in the divisional series. Given our 1-6 record against Boston during the 2013 season, we would have lost that series just as sure as these beards are butt-ugly. It’s not a question of whether we would have fared better under the old format. It’s a question of whether the new format is even necessary. I don’t think so.
The last day of the 2011 regular season was incredibly exciting, with some come-from-behind victories to determine the AL wild card spot. In 2009, the Twins and Tigers had a one-game playoff to determine the AL Central division champion. What made all those games special was that they were unexpected. No one went into the 2011 season expecting so much excitement from game 162. No one went into the 2009 season expecting a game 163. The second wild card game seems like an artificial attempt to create excitement. (Sometimes product innovation is lovely. Sometimes it’s stupid. New Coke, anyone?) Plus, any system that requires this many rules in order to implement it might not be the most sensible.
Ten of 30 MLB teams now participate in the post-season in some way. Up until 1969, 1/12 of MLB teams played beyond the regular season–each league winner met in the World Series. That was it. How much can you expand the playoff pool before you begin to dilute it and reward mediocrity? Just because you can add teams doesn’t mean you should.
Okay, time to stop griping and watch the World Series.