Major League Baseball does not have a problem with the structure of its playoffs, but it does have a problem with the structure of the Wild Card Game. The single “win or go home” format of the Wild Card Game goes against everything that the series-based season and playoffs stand for.
In one of my first Daily Trojan columns I voiced why MLB has the unique ability to determine which 10 clubs should be playing in the postseason. There is no other professional sport that is able to do that: The NFL, NHL and NBA seasons are too short to account for slumps, fluke wins and streaks. The beauty of the 162-game baseball season is that it allows for all of the aforementioned circumstances to be naturally corrected.
One of the most supported proposals to the to MLB is to eliminate the effect divisions have on determining which team continues onto the postseason. I have yet to understand why this is so supported. Divisions within leagues are a quintessential part of the scheduling of baseball; therefore, I don’t think the league will ever do away with divisions entirely. As a result, it’s impossible to determine which teams should make the postseason, without doing so arbitrarily.
For example, teams like the Cleveland Indians, who play in the AL Central, would have an insanely inflated record over teams in tougher divisions like the AL East. For this reason it is incredibly important that MLB considers who should make the playoffs based on the leaders of the established divisions.
I might support an alteration to the teams in each division. For example, at the end of each season, restructure the divisions. This would allow for each of the six divisions to be more evenly matched, rather than having powerful and weak divisions. I think this option is something to consider. The only downside that I see is that it will significantly harm some of the rivalries in the sport. Can you imagine a day when the Yankees and Red Sox are not in the same division? That would be just wrong.
However, I do not believe that the playoff system is perfect. The concept of a Wild Card Game (emphasis on game) goes against everything the format of baseball stands for. There is no possibility that two teams will face to play one single game. Every game in the 162-game season is structured in series for a very logical reason: Baseball is an extremely variable sport. On any given day, the No. 1 team can be upset by the worst team. But for some illogical reason, MLB trusts that one game will be able to accurately decide which of the two best non-division winning teams in each league will be able to continue in the postseason bracket.
Consider this: The Baltimore Orioles finished the 2018 season with a .290 record, the 15th worst record in the modern era, yet Baltimore still mounted a win over every 2018 American League playoff team at some point in the season. But the Orioles only won one of the 16 series they played in against American League postseason representatives. So why in the name of Babe Ruth is the wild card representative chosen by the outcome of one game rather than a series? It doesn’t need to be a best of seven or even a best of five — a best of three would suffice in providing balance to the extreme variance of the sport of baseball. More than one game is absolutely necessary to ensure the best teams are playing in October.
One of my favorite mottos is “don’t fix what isn’t broken.” The MLB playoffs are not broken and the league and division structures are not broken. The single-game disservice called the wild card, however, is most certainly broken, and must be fixed to ensure that the best two non-division winning teams have the opportunity to make a postseason run.
Sam Arslanian is a sophomore majoring in journalism. He is also the sports editor of the Daily Trojan. His column, “Extra Innings,” runs Fridays.