Winning is all that matters in sports, right?
In less than a month, 10 teams from the American League and the National League will get to play beyond the 162-game regular season and try to win MLB’s ultimate prize: the World Series.
In these playoffs, we could possibly see one of these teams win over 100 games and still only come away with a wild card and be forced to play in the one-game wild card round.
Before I begin, I am not a Yankees fan. I have never been one in my life. And when it comes to sports reporting, I remain true to being as objective as possible when it comes to any story I write.
But hear me out on this topic, which was recently explored by Bill Shaikin of the Los Angeles Times and brought up by Phil Rogers of MLB.com three years ago when the Pirates lost in the NL wild card playoff after winning 98 games.
I tend to lean toward what Rogers suggest and believe that a playoff format should be modified — but only a little bit.
I believe that the five winningest teams with the best win/loss record should make the postseason and be seeded according to win/loss record — regardless if a team finishes first in its division. The top three teams from each league automatically make the divisional round, while the fourth and fifth winningest teams play each other in the one-game playoff.
If that was the case this season, the AL would currently have the Red Sox, Yankees, Astros, Athletics and Indians as the top five teams, with the A’s and Tribe playing each other in the one-game playoff. In the NL, it would be the Cubs, Brewers, Braves, Cardinals and Dodgers, with the Cardinals and Dodgers facing each other in the one-game do-or-die round, which has provided great television since its inception in 2012.
In making this format happen, I agree with Rogers that there should be a “modified balanced schedule” in which every club plays “the other 14 teams in their league 10 times and a total of 22 Interleague games.”
The major con that has come up when it comes to postseason play is that those clubs that win their respective division should get an advantage by automatically getting a chance to play in the divisional round. However, the division system has always been flawed because division champions are not awarded on their record against division opponents and instead are awarded because every game is counted toward the division standings.
To see how crazy it is flawed, I looked into the history of the three-division format in baseball. In all but two seasons since the three-division format started in 1994, there has been at least one team that has finished second or lower in the division standings and has posted a better record against divisional opponents than the “division champion.” The only years that this did not happen were in 1998 and 2014.
If we look at the 2017 standings, you can see that the Dodgers won the NL West and had the best record in the National League with a 104-58 record, the Nationals won the NL East at 97-65, and the Cubs won the NL Central at 92-70, while the Diamondbacks were the first wild card at 93-69 and the Rockies were the second wild card at 87-75. However, the Diamondbacks had a better record against NL West opponents than the Dodgers, as Arizona finished with a 45-31 mark while Los Angeles was 41-35. In addition, the Diamondbacks had a better overall record than the Cubs.
If we applied the first part of the proposal toward this situation, the Dodgers would still be the top seed in the National League (and could be known as the National League “regular-season champion”) and the Nationals would still be the second seed, but the Diamondbacks would be the third seed and get an automatic berth to the divisional round. As for the Cubs and Rockies, they would be playing in the one-game playoff, even though the Cubs won the Central.
By going with the proposal above, it makes clubs truly have to prove they are one of the best teams in their entire league. It also keeps the same format.
And if baseball is worried about the marketing of division champions, they can still call the team that finishes with the best record against its division opponents “division champions” and sell all kinds of memorabilia. But, we shouldn’t keep rewarding a team a “division title” and an automatic playoff spot for them if they failed to produce the best record against their division counterparts.
After all, the only prize that an MLB club wants to win is a World Series crown. And for a club like the Yankees this year or any other team moving forward, there is no reason that they should be penalized for winning by being forced to play a one-game playoff when they have been the second-best team in baseball for practically the entire season. I mean, just say the following out loud:
The Red Sox have 95 wins, the Yankees have 86 wins, the Astros have 85 wins, the Athletics have 83 wins and the Indians have 77 wins.
Obviously, there is still 27 days left in the season and maybe the Yankees won’t finish with the second-best record in baseball. But, if these five teams stay in these positions — and the Yankees win 100 games or more — you can bet that there will be a ton of people upset about the playoff format.
After all, winning isn’t everything under this format.