The New York Yankees led the American League Wild Card race by five games over Seattle as of the Major League Baseball All-Star Break. They could very well finish the season 10 games better than both the Mariners and the winner of the AL Central Division, and will still have to win a one-game playoff just to earn the right to play the best team in the American League, who will likely be from their own division.
I’m not one to make excuses for the Yankees. As a Minnesota Twins fan, I despise the Yankees more than most, and I’m a huge fan of the one-game playoff. But there’s nothing fair about a team’s postseason chances coming down to one game when that team has played a tougher schedule to a better record than all but one team in the league. It’s time for MLB to do away with divisions and go back to a division-less pennant race.
While Rob Manfred was repeatedly putting his foot in his mouth prior to the MLB All-Star Game, blaming the Los Angeles Angels and Mike Trout for not marketing Mike Trout, and calling for a discussion on ending defensive shifts, only the most interesting thing happening in baseball, he failed to address the most pressing issue facing the game. The one-game Wild Card could be played between the second- and fourth-ranked teams in the American League while the sixth-ranked team in the league gets a pass to the Divisional round simply for playing in a historically weak division. And that sixth-ranked team won’t even play the league’s best team.
Back in 1969, when East and West divisions were adopted by Major League Baseball, there were no Wild Card teams in the playoff format. And when just one team from both the American League and National League were awarded a postseason berth as a Wild Card for the first time in 1995 (the 1994 postseason was cancelled due to a player strike), there weren’t immediate issues.
But now that there are two Wild Card teams from each league reaching the postseason, either those teams need to play a three-game Wild Card series, or the league needs a good, old-fashioned pennant race. I’m for both.
I would recommend shortening the season to 154 games and adding a three-game Wild Card Playoff series to be played between the fourth- and fifth-ranked teams in each league, regardless of division standings. There is no need for a team to play the same four teams 19 times every year. I’d be fine with MLB divisions remaining simply for travel and rivalry reasons, but 17 games against division rivals is still probably too many. Commissioner Manfred should shorten the regular season to the original 154-game length while adding at least four and up to six lucrative playoff games to the schedule.
Since the All-Star Game no longer determines which league has home field advantage in the World Series, a good, old-fashioned pennant race is the most reasonable and fair way to determine who plays who in the playoffs. The top three seeds in each league would benefit from up to five days off entering the playoffs while the two Wild Card teams are decided, and each league’s top seed would play the fourth-best team instead of the second-best team that happened to lose its division despite winning more games than other division champions.
So before Manfred even considers changing rules to the game regarding defensive shifts and pace of play, he should make sure the league’s best teams are rewarded for being the league’s best teams. Even if the Yankees were to win the Wild Card Game, if the playoffs began today, they’d meet the Red Sox in the Divisional Series instead of the ALCS. And if 2004 taught us anything, it’s that baseball’s best rivalry should be decided in the ALCS. Most importantly though, the league’s best playoff team should play the league’s worst playoff team in the divisional round, and that’s not the case as the MLB postseason currently stands.
Target Field staff played a delayed feed of the national anthem on the Jumbotron while Brian Dozier homered to open the game and Eddie Rosario followed it with a two-run dinger, but despite missing nearly all the action, and the game becoming predictably uncompetitive, I still think the world needs more one-game playoffs.
The Minnesota Twins were the David to the Goliaths of the Major League Baseball Playoffs. ESPN’s Sports Nation staff ranked Minnesota’s roster last amongst the MLB playoff teams in all three areas -- lineup, starting pitching and relief pitching.
The Twins were huge underdogs not just to win the American League pennant, but the Wild Card Game. A $100 bet on the Twins to beat the Yankees would have paid $225. Those are the worst odds in the short history of MLB one-game playoffs. In the first American League Wild Card Game, a $100 bet on the Baltimore Orioles to beat the Texas Rangers paid $195.
Better yet, a $100 bet on that guy who had never boxed before against that guy who had never lost before would have paid just $40 more than a bet on the Twins to beat the Yankees. Apparently 50 million Americans watched that fight, which would be 15 percent of the U.S. population. The overnight rating for the American League Wild Card Game was 5.2, meaning Nielsen estimates 5.2 percent of households watched the game -- up 58 percent from last year.
So people watched because anything can happen in one game -- and did it ever. We saw baseball like never before because of the one-game playoff format. For better or worse, we saw how managers can affect a game -- something that isn’t the case over the course of a 162-game season -- or even a seven-game series.
Paul Molitor might win the American League Manager of the Year Award, but Joe Girardi was the better manager Tuesday. He made all the right moves. Girardi lifted starter Luis Severino after a third of an inning before his postseason ERA ballooned over 100 (it’s 81.00). When the Yankees badly needed to strand two runners in scoring position with just one out down three runs in the first inning, Girardi called on Chad Green, who struck out Byron Buxton and Jason Castro -- who didn’t touch a ball and probably should have been lifted for a pinch hitter at some point with three catchers on the Twins’ roster.
Molitor could have lifted Ervin Santana after a third of an inning, too. Santana was visibly struggling with his command, but instead of going to Trevor Hildenberger with two runners on, Molitor left Santana to allow the home run that tied it and sucked whatever mojo the Twins had stolen in the first half of the inning.
Girardi used his best bullpen pitcher (by the numbers at least) in the most dire situation while Molitor used his best bullpen pitcher, Trevor Hildenberger, to start the sixth inning down three runs -- with nobody on base! And instead of lifting Santana for Hildenberger, Molitor went to Jose Berrios, who like Santana, struggles to find his command early in games. Berrios predictably allowed a home run that put the Twins in a seemingly insurmountable three-run hole with the best of the Yankee bullpen yet to come.
Whatever mojo Molitor might have had in negotiating an extension with the Twins, he’s lost it in my opinion. When one game is your season, that game must be managed flawlessly. But that’s part of the beauty of one-game playoffs. Managers are faced with situations that don’t exist outside of a one-game playoff -- like removing your starting pitcher with one out in the first inning.
Anything could have happened on Tuesday in New York, but the better team won, as is mostly the case in MLB one-game playoffs. The favorite is 7-3 in MLB Wild Card Games, with those previously mentioned 2012 Orioles being the biggest underdog to advance. The 2014 Kansas City Royals were barely underdogs against the Oakland Athletics at +101, and the 2015 Houston Astros and Yankees were basically drawing even, but the Astros were playing in New York.
So if the better team wins the one-game playoff 70 percent of the time, the world needs more one-game playoffs. I’m not advocating the expansion of the MLB Wild Card format, but in a world where so much is wrong, one-game playoffs like that of the MLB and NFL Playoffs and NCAA March Madness provide wildly entertaining relief. I hope there’s a tie for a division championship or a three-way tie for a Wild Card spot next season.
If you like this, you might like these Genesis Communications Network talk shows: View From The Couch