About a month ago I wrote about how MLB needs to change their playoff format. The NL playoffs are all but wrapped up, and will feature two of the top three teams in the league in the Wild Card game. The winner will go on to play the best team in the league, which means that MLB currently has a system that guarantees two of the best three teams will be eliminated from the NL playoffs before the NLCS. Meanwhile, the Mets and Dodgers will enter the post-season just needing to win three games against the fourth or fifth best team in the league, all because the teams they play aren’t as good as the teams in the NL Central.
This is a weird, outdated concept, and it doesn’t make sense that MLB goes with this system. Right now there are no real playoff races, unless you consider the small chance of the Pirates overtaking the Cardinals for the NL Central, or the Cubs overtaking the Pirates for home field in the NL Wild Card game.
Without divisions, there would actually be some playoff races. You’d still have the Pirates with an outside shot at home field advantage. You’d still have the Cubs trying to overtake the Pirates. But more importantly, you’d have the Cubs trying to hold off the Mets and the Dodgers, and trying to maintain their spot in the NLDS, while avoiding the play-in game.
That’s the problem with the Wild Card game. It’s something that should be avoided, as no team wants to put a 162 game season all on one game. But the problem is that some teams currently are having an easier time avoiding the Wild Card game than others. Los Angeles and New York are avoiding the Wild Card game simply because the rest of their division is weak. St. Louis is avoiding the Wild Card game because they’ve had a fantastic season. But the Pirates and Cubs are stuck in that game due to that fantastic season the Cardinals are having, despite the fact that Pittsburgh and Chicago are also having great seasons.
One big argument against changing the playoff format is that this is just a one year thing, and that it hasn’t happened before. I’ve pointed out that the system is too new for us to reach this problem yet. The only other NL Wild Card team that could have won a different division was in 2013 with the Pirates. But now we have two Wild Card teams who could have won either the East or the West divisions.
The problem is that this doesn’t look to be going away. The Cubs have a very young and talented team, with a lot of money to spend. The Pirates have a very young and talented team, and several prospects in the upper levels who will only add to that talent in the next year. The Cardinals also don’t look to be going anywhere, and based on the league prospect rankings by Baseball America, they’re restocking the lower levels of their farm system.
All three of these teams project to be strong teams going forward, with no foreseeable drop off in the near future. In fact, they all might have a shot of improving, which increases the odds that we could be in this same situation next year. And if this keeps happening, then baseball will have one really good NL division, two weak divisions, and will guarantee that their best teams will never meet in the NLCS. That’s not how the playoffs should work, and it’s not how a league should be structured.
If this truly was a one-time deal in a system that has been around for ages, then making changes wouldn’t make sense. But this is the first time a flaw has been detected in a new system, and it’s a flaw that projects to impact this system going forward. That gives every reason for MLB to make a change next year, and fix the problem that the fairly new one game Wild Card created.
**Pirates Look Like They Have One of the Best NL Playoff Rotations. Looking beyond Jake Arrieta and the Wild Card game, Pete Ellis breaks down how the Pirates have one of the best NL playoff rotations. On that note, I wrote about Arrieta a lot this weekend, mostly because they were playing the Cubs and that gave a preview of what he can do. If you’ll notice, I’ve never once said the Pirates can’t beat him in the Wild Card game. I’ve said it will be very difficult to beat him, and anyone who says otherwise isn’t being honest about how good a pitcher he has been. But I’ve also written a few articles pointing out keys to beating him, such as countering with Gerrit Cole, running up the pitch count, and Gregory Polanco’s limited success against him. Don’t mistake the talk about Arrieta being good with the idea that the Pirates have no shot.
**Pirates Place Three Among Top 20 Prospects in FSL. They had a very strong team in the FSL this year, with a lot of good prospects beyond Meadows, Ramirez, and McGuire.
**LOTS OF HEAT! From Monday, I found the Oliver Perez “Lots of Heat” commercial. Enjoy!
**Hurdle, Hughes, and Broxton Discuss What It’s Like to be a September Callup. Also from Monday, I really liked the input of this article, taking a look at the feeling of being a September callup from two people who went through it, and one person currently in the process. There’s not much prospect analysis available right now, as winter leagues and the AFL don’t start for a few weeks. Therefore, this is the time of year to get these types of looks into areas that we don’t talk about when games are being played and performances can be evaluated.