Of the four division series, three went to five games and each of those do-or-die affairs was decided by a run. It is a recipe for some great postseason drama.
You know what was missing from the first round? More games.
Although many Red Sox fans waywardly gloated when the Yankees were eliminated (yes, it's an annual rite to rip New York when its season ends, but this is the year you keep quiet, folks) and the way in which the Cardinals knocked off the Phillies was dramatic, it's not always in the best interest of baseball to see these results.
Sure, "upsets" are great in any sport, and seeing the Yanks fall in the Bronx and Roy Halladay get outdueled in Philly means plenty. But as long as the division series remains a best-of-five venture, the game will continue to have complete crapshoots decide who advances. The regular season means plenty, but once you're in, it's almost too much of an "anyone’s game" kind of thing. Winning the division, clinching early, finishing with the best record in your league, it doesn't mean a whole lot. Expanding the division series from five to seven games may not change things all that much, but it might create just enough of a difference to make the playoffs less of a random affair. Random is good, but this is just too random.
Baseball is a game that gives you opportunities to overcome your mistakes. The old adage "even the best hitters are out 70 percent of the time" applies all over the place. The best teams lose 60 times. The worst win twice that many. It's a game where champions have to lose many, many battles to win the war. The first round simply doesn't offer up enough battles.
Baseball decides its first round in a lightning-quick set that can turn on a dime.
In a way, this is a backward argument. If any sport needs a more level playing field, it's baseball. However, that is more of an over-arching issue best debated by labor bigwigs and the old commish. When it comes time for the cream of the crop to play for the right to win it all, the cream should have every opportunity to rise to the top, and home-field advantage in a best-of-five just seems like a small reward.
The NBA and NHL both play 82 games, and each requires its champ to run through four straight best-of-seven series. And those are sports where playing at home means so much more, a scenario that can weed out the weak. A team as stacked as the Phillies can suffer one letdown in Game 2 and before you know it, an opponent that needed a historic collapse to just squeak into the postseason not only has home-field advantage but can actually win that series at home. (Yes, that's not exactly what happened in the Phils-Cards series, but we're dealing in hypotheticals here.)
Thing is, hypotheticals aren't needed. There's plenty of proof that it's a complete crapshoot once the calendar turns to October. Since 2000, teams with better records have won less than half (48.9 percent) of the division series, and so many of those have involved lopsided matchups, at least in terms of win-loss records. For instance, the Phillies and Cardinals featured a disparity of 12 games in the standings. It just seems like Philadelphia and teams that dominated like it deserve a format that can allow them to take a few hits, overcome those obstacles and show what made them so successful for six months.
If lengthening the first round provides any advantage to the Phillies or Yankees or other teams that earned that top spot, it could allow for more dynasties to develop. That's a good thing. Not only is it notable when a team like New York can reel off four World Series wins in five years, but it makes it mean so much more when they get knocked off by teams like the Diamondbacks and Marlins. Had a 23-year-old Josh Beckett shut out the Athletics in Oakland Alameda Coliseum on Oct. 25, 2003, it simply wouldn't mean as much to the game.
Fans in Philadelphia are stunned today. They would be if they lost in seven games as well. But much of their shock has to do with how brief their playoff experience was. It doesn't quite jibe with a game that is built upon having margin for error. There's just so little of it in a best-of-five series.