Major League Baseball has done the New York Yankees, Oakland Athletics, Washington Nationals and the Cincinnati Reds no favors with the one-time format of sending the higher seed to the home park of the lower seed. It gets worse for the Yankees and the Nationals, the teams who fought and survived the season with the best records in their respective leagues; they get to wait until today’s wild card play-in games conclude before they know who and where they will play. Really? Nice advantage.
While the total number of games remains the same, two in the lower seed’s park and three at the higher seed’s field, there is something advantageous about opening a team opening its series in one’s home. With several teams within just a few wins of each other this may be one of the more wide open races to the World Series in recent memory. Jumping out to a 2-0 lead could be huge.
The sole purpose of the play-in game was to severely limit the wild card winning team in some way. Having to come out victorious in a winner take all scenario is exciting for fans, but stressful for the teams both mentally and physically. But, is this 2-3 format really that much of a disadvantage for the team that wins the play-in game? If it happens to be Baltimore or Atlanta that wins their respective games, they will not have to leave town and get a day of rest to boot. Yes, they may have used up a starter, but the bullpens can be put to full use with a day to recharge in between. The Orioles for example are using Joe Saunders to start today’s game. Saunders is rested, but hardly the best starter on the team. Buck Showalter is smart enough to realize that he’s got a full arsenal at his disposal should Saunders falter early and there is no game the next day. Why throw a better pitcher when his bullpen is his strength?
I understand the need for the play-in game winner to get a day off, but it should have been for travel to the team city that had the better record and keep the original 2-2-1 format. Short series are about momentum. Whoever wins the wild card play-in game will have some momentum and will have their fans behind them in the first two games of the series. This is fair? What’s the point of having home-field advantage if the team actually starts on the road? What benefit do the Yankees have in having to hastily make travel arrangements after today’s game? They should be able to work out in their own park and sleep in their own beds while the disadvantages keep piling up on the wild card team; you know the team that lost more games during the regular season.
But, this is Major League Baseball folks. This play-in game HAD to start right away even though the regular season schedule and the TV deals were already set in stone. Didn’t MLB learn anything last year about how the game of baseball manifests its own excitement? Couldn’t the old format have stuck in place for one more season? Was the finish this season any more exciting than in 2011? You know what; there would have been a play-in game today had the old wild card format been left in place one more year (the Orioles and Rangers have identical records so they would have played to determine the wild card winner). Sticking with the old format or forcing the wild card team to travel immediately following their play-in game would have given them with a true disadvantage AND the Yankees would not be hopping on a plane today.
As usual, MLB comes up with a halfway decent idea and rushes it without thinking it through. It would have been a disaster had there been tie-breakers to play with only one day to get them in. What if a tie-breaker resulted in another? It could have easily happened considering how close team’s records were to each other as the regular season wound down. MLB was fortunate this didn’t happen.
MLB is essentially getting one more game than it would have using the other format, so this can’t be about a few extra TV dollars. The argument that it kept teams in the playoff picture longer is unfounded. The Atlanta Braves finished six games ahead of the St. Louis Cardinals and the Redbirds finished two games ahead of the Dodgers; no drama there. There was plenty of excitement in each American League division heading into the final days of the season and again there would have actually been a tie-breaker, the same game we’ll see today between the Orioles and Rangers, had MLB let the 2012 season playoff stick to the original format.
But MLB got wrapped up in 2011′s amazing final day and forced the issue for 2012 and beyond, making the assumption that adding one more team in each league was going to invoke half the MLB cities into a frenzy during the final days of the season. Well guess what, it was the same number of teams with a legitimate shot to reach the postseason in the final week as last season.
MLB wanted to make a change to give the wild card team a disadvantage. I get it and it is a good thing. But, let it happen when the schedules can be manufactured to give them the full disadvantage they deserve and not take away the an important advantage the team with the best record in the league has—resting AT HOME and knowing where their first playoff game will be—AT HOME in front of THEIR fans.
Tags: New York Yankees