As teams begin to lock up playoff spots, the light is starting to shine on the new rules implemented for the playoffs, starting this year. Starting this season, there shall now be two Wild Card teams from each league, bringing the total number of teams to reach the playoffs to five per league. Two days after the regular season ends, the two Wild Card teams will meet up in a one game playoff to see who earns the right to face the best team in their league.
This new change in procedure has brought on many detractors, while also garnering a fair share of support. When the rule was first announced, I was dead set against the idea. After all, you play hard for 162 games, fight tooth and nail to get into the playoffs, only to have your hopes and dreams crushed in one game. To make matters worse, the Wild Card teams need to use their best pitcher to secure a playoff spot, putting them behind the figurative eight ball, and at a severe disadvantage. If they are able to survive the one game playoff, they face the best team in their league the very next day.
As I said, when this rule was first announced, I was dead set against the idea of the one game playoff series. Then I started to think about the idea, and I may have come around to liking the new format, or at least part of the planed format. Look at the past few years, and some of the most exciting games in the baseball season have come on the very last day of the season. Look no further than the Boston Red Sox and Atlanta Braves losing their playoff spots in game 162. The baseball world was focused on those final games with all contending teams to see if there would be two historic collapses in the same season. That right there is pure excitement. Everything comes down to one game to see who makes the playoffs and who goes home to deal with five months of regret. What this new rule does, is essentially recreate that exciting atmosphere.
Look at other sports, and think about some of the most exciting aspects of the various games you can get. Game seven in any playoff format is always a crowd pleaser. Extra innings in baseball, sudden death overtime in hockey and how things used to be in football, and of course, game 163 in baseball. That is a rare game, but this new rule gives this to fans every year. The excitement of an all or nothing game, two in fact, every year is bound to generate excitement. I think that those detractors will come around once they get sucked into the games and the tension over takes them.
The only problem I have with the new playoff format comes in the form of a scheduling change. Starting this year, the Divisional Series will see a change in format. The team that holds home field advantage will still host three games in the five game series (if all five games are played out), but they will be forced to start the series on the road. How messed up is that? The best team in each league starts with two games on the road, and could very likely come home with a 0-2 deficit needing to win three straight games. Granted, you will be at home for all three games, you will be facing a team filled with momentum only needing to win one more game. The team that theoretically is supposed to have home field advantage could realistically play only one game of the series on their own turf.
What baseball should have done was eliminate the off days in the playoff series; at least within each separate series. If playoff baseball is supposed to be played under the same rules as during the regular season, why do they set up the schedule where teams can throw their best three pitchers out there to start every game? In the regular season, teams need to use five starting pitchers (unless you are the Colorado Rockies and revert to the four man rotation) so why not make this the case for the playoffs as well?
By eliminating the off days in each playoff series you can make sure that contending teams need to use at least four different starting pitchers in each series; with the obvious exception of completing a sweep in the National League Division Series. You could even see a team have to use all five of their starting pitchers in the NLDS if the series is stretched to five games and the manager does not want to bring their opening game starter back on short rest.
Baseball’s postseason is always filled with excitement, and I think making this one small change could bring things to an entirely new level.