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I sit here waiting to watch the one game playoff between the Pirates and the Reds and I’m reminded how much I dislike this wild-card format.  Baseball is a game in which even the best teams lose more than a third of their games.  That’s what makes a 100-win season great, even better a 110-win season.  

Baseball is a marathon where winning isn’t about a single moment of greatness, but by overall long-term quality of play.  That’s why we play a season of 162 games rather than just the 16 games that the NFL has.  It give us time to differentiate the good from the bad, the great from the good.


World Series Trophies
Photo by Ed Quinn, used under creative commons license.
Close to 50 percent of the time, games are won by the weaker team. That's one reason baseball has had playoff series, rather than a single-game championships -- to make sure the better team had the chance to move on.  Admittedly the biggest reason that we have playoff series is that the owners wanted to fatten their purse, even back in the days of the first World Series in 1903.  But what it has always meant is that over a number of games the better team has had more of an opportunity to win.

The single wild card game throws all that out the window.  A bad day for a pitcher can’t be made up the next day.  Managers aren’t allowed to play the game the way they’ve been trained to do because there is no tomorrow to come back for.  All it take is a bit of luck, good or bad or a single bad call, to determine who wins, who loses and who will go on to the division series.  While that’s normal in a game 7, that is a situation that both teams have earned themselves, not something artificially created.

And it puts the wild card-winning team at a severe disadvantage right off the bat when it gets to that division series.  In football if you win a wild card game, all you lose is a week of rest.  Your best quarterback still gets to go out and play from the first minute of the next game, as does the best running backs, receivers and defensemen.  In baseball there is none of that.

Your back is to the wall in the wild card game.  You not only lose the day or two of rest, but you essentially lose your best pitcher for the opening games of the division series -- as you had to throw him in a do-or-die game just a day before.  If you are lucky, he’ll get to pitch once on regular rest in the division series.

That’s a tremendous advantage, one which probably can be likened to being forced to play without your starting QB in the first quarter of an NFL playoff.  It creates a situation where fans are robbed of seeing the best possible pitching matchup in game one (and possibly the entire series) of the division series.

That’s huge for the team who gets to sit back and play the wild card team.  An unfair advantage, in this case one which in the National League belongs to the St. Louis Cardinals who’ll get to match up against a Reds or Pirates team who won’t be able to choose the pitching matchups.

You could argue that this is an OK scenario, that the wild card team should come in at a significant disadvantage, but how is this fair to the Dodgers or Braves?  Those teams are both division winners who don’t get the advantage of the softer match up but who’ll have to struggle, ace against ace, against each other.

It’s something that disrupts the balance of the game in a way that exists nowhere else in baseball.  While the wild card concept is good, it could be fixed by having wild card series instead.  That would keep the wild card races alive, and it would do what the wild card game concept was designed to do -- fatten the purses of the owners.

Giving the wild card teams at least a chance to get their aces back on the round for an early game of the division series make sense.  No team should be placed at a disadvantage intentionally, nor should one division winner have a leg up that the other division winners aren’t entitled to.

That’s why I dislike the wild card concept as it stands right now.  Of course, tonight I’ll be watching the game.