Atlanta Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez was on Sirius radio this week and talked about his hopes that the Wildcard playoff will be changed to a best of three series at the upcoming Winter Meetings (December 3-6 in Nashville). Fredi seemed confident that it has a good chance of happening. He must be dreaming. Commissioner Bud Selig said in an interview after the Giants won the World Series that he liked the playoff format just the way it is and that it worked out well. Case closed.
Despite the chances of anything changing Fredi is right, something must be done about this playoff system. After watching a format that was severely lacking in fairness there are a couple of changes that should be made for next season and beyond.
The first change that should be made is to change the playoff format to the model that the NBA uses: Once a team qualifies for the playoffs the teams are seeded by wins. Just because a team wins its division does not mean that team should be seeded higher than a team that wins more games despite not winning its division. Some divisions are tougher than others. For example this past season the Detroit Tigers had the least amount of wins in the American League with 88 wins. That was five wins less than both the Baltimore Orioles and Texas Rangers who had 93 wins each and faced each other in the Wildcard playoff game. How is that fair? By seeding by wins it would put the emphasis on playing all the way to the end of the season. It would also still keep the emphasis on winning your division, which is part of the reason why the extra Wildcard was added in the first place. After making this change the Wildcard round should be renamed the Opening or First Round of the playoffs.
The second change is the one Fredi is hoping for, a change of the Opening or First Round of the playoffs to a best of three series. After changing the seeding of playoff teams by wins teams must also have a chance to each host a playoff game after playing 162 games. This could be done by tweaking the schedule a bit during the regular season and/or including scheduling double headers as baseball has done in the past. This past season the Braves had a comfortable lead on the second wildcard for most of the season and ended up with six more wins than the St. Louis Cardinals. No team that plays that well for as long a season as baseball has should have their season come down to a one game playoff, especially if the first wildcard has significantly more wins than the second wildcard. Also, this is not the other major sports where all of their top players play in the playoffs. A team could have a balance of starters while another team could have a top flight starter and no one else and the team with the top flight starter would have the advantage in this current one game playoff system. By changing the playoff format to a best of three it would be fair to both teams.
When asked what he thought of the new playoff format during the season Chipper Jones said that baseball is a game of three to four game series over 162 games and that is how the playoffs should be. Now you want to throw two teams into a one game playoff? Chipper then summed it up succinctly, “Stupid”.