Major League Baseball isn't far from getting it right in the postseason.
The proposed idea for expansion has the American League and National League adding a second wild-card team, with the two wild-card teams from each league facing off in an extra playoff round. Instead of weakening the wild-card teams, baseball would benefit by adding two wild-card teams while granting the top seeds in each league a bye.
Take 2004 for example. The Red Sox made the playoffs as a wild card with the second-best record in the AL, three games behind the Yankees (AL East champion) but six games ahead of the Twins (AL Central champ) and Angels (AL West winner). So the wild-card slot helps keep the sport "honest," so to speak, because it counters the effects of a weak division. But if the wild-card round was in effect in 2004, the Red Sox would have played the Oakland Athletics, who finished seven games behind Boston.
The extra rounds look like they will be either a one-game playoff or best-of-three series. Either way, why should the second-best team, the Red Sox (still using the 2004 example), risk elimination in such a short series? And even if they advanced, why should they have to play extra games and cause their rotation to get out of order? A more logical solution would be to have the teams with the worst two records (A’s and Angels) play.
But the best solution would be to create a playoff format similar to the NFL’s.
First, grant the top two seeds a bye. The MLB season is so long that there needs to be a greater incentive for finishing with the best record. Home-field advantage is not enough.
Since 2002, seven out of 18 wild card teams have made it to the World Series, meaning that the seeding doesn’t matter a whole lot. A 162-game season is overkill if it has few playoff implications.
In the NFL, an extra week off makes a huge difference. Only nine wild card teams have made the Super Bowl since the seed’s inception in 1975, compared to nine MLB wild card teams making the World Series since 1995. Since 2002, 72 percent of the NFL’s conference championship teams are the one or two seeds, while only 50 percent of the MLB’s league championship teams are one or two seeds. Since the top two seeds in the NFL get a bye, the extra week seems to be the difference between the two sports.
In addition to granting byes, the seeding should follow records, regardless of divisional standings. If the Yankees and the Red Sox finish in the top two, they deserve the easier path to the World Series. Have the three seed play the six seed and the four seed play the five seed with the winners earning a chance to play the top two seeds.
By adding these changes to the playoff format, two extra cities will get a chance to see their teams in the playoffs while the seeding becomes relevant. The regular season would become more exciting as some teams race for the wild card and others race for the bye.
And while the quality of teams in the playoffs may be watered down, the format would serve as a more accurate measure of the best team in each league.
Do you think MLB should follow the NFL's playoff format and seed teams? Leave your thoughts below.