Does my headline make sense to you? If it does, you may have thought about this issue as much as I have. If not, please listen with an open mind while I elaborate.
Although I’m not aware of any statistically reliable research on the subject, my guess would be that a majority, although maybe a slight majority, of serious baseball fans dislike at least some parts of the wild-card system. For me, my biggest objection is that it fails to reward excellence throughout the regular season. Once the playoffs start, the wild-card team has as good a chance of winning it all as a team that wins over 100 games and cruises to a division title. Evidence: I think every Braves fan can point out 100+ win Braves teams in the “14 Straight” era that didn’t win it all. Shoot, the one Braves team that did win it all in 1995 was arguably one of the weakest in the streak. Florida, which has yet to win a division title, has two World Series champion banners to admire! And what, three of the last nine World Series champions got in the playoffs via the wild-card. There was a wild-card team in the World Series for six straight years from 2002-2007. What these numbers mean is that the playoffs are indeed a crapshoot. And I deeply believe that the teams that win their divisions should be rewarded for that accomplishment more than a wild-card team.
I guess ideally I’d like to see the wild-card go away. From a practical standpoint I don’t see that ever happening. There’s just too much riding on the system financially for it to go away. I guess I can also honestly say that, as a Braves fan, I was glad the wild-card was there in 2010.
Given that the wild-card is not going away, I have advocated for the inclusion of two teams from each league for the past several years. Under my system, the wild-card teams would play each other in the first round of the playoffs. This would indeed be a crapshoot best-of-three round. The wild-card teams would have to use their top-of-the-rotation starting pitchers, or risk elimination. Given the limits imposed by weather, there could be little argument against having only a one or two day break before the second round started. At the start of the second round, the division winners would have rested players and ace starting pitching going for them against the number three pitcher on the wild-card team. This seems like a reasonable reward for excellence. It would also provide plenty of drams. Teams set up for the marathon, like all those Braves teams in the streak, would be much better positioned to win. It seems like a win all around, which the cynical part of me says is the reason it hasn’t yet happened!
What are the objections? Well, the primary one I’ve heard is the weather. In essence, the argument says that you can’t start the season any earlier due to weather, you can’t push the season into November due to weather, and you can’t shorten the regular season without impacting the revenue of all the teams.
I think 2010 has helped put these objections to rest. It was shown that starting the season on the Thursday or Friday preceding the traditional Monday start is actionable with very little pain. And even Bud Selig has admitted that there is way too much downtime in the current postseason schedule. Take these factors into account and allow for the possibility of a game or two happening in November (think 2010), and this approach seems like absolutely the right way to go to me. And it still leaves baseball with a lower percentage of postseason teams than most major sports.
I’d say there’s an 80% chance of this happening starting in 2012. What do you think?