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Pinstripe Q&A: How should the playoffs be structured?

Would you like to see a best of 19 game series? Or maybe the Wild Card team should be handicapped and have to play an aardvark.

Patrick Smith

Since the introduction of the expanded playoffs in 2012, there has been a lot of hand-wringing about whether or not the new format is good or bad for baseball. The excitement of the games certainly hasn't diminished since the new format began, but I don't think anyone expected it to. The arguments against it were generally that it opened up the possibility of a near .500 team getting hot and winning the World Series. But for some people, that's not a bad possibility. I thought I'd ask our staff how they would like to see the playoffs structured.

Q: With the playoffs now in full swing, what changes to the MLB playoff structure, if any, would you like to be seen made?

Greg: In all honesty, I'd love for it to go back the way it was before the Wild Card was introduced. After a long season, having an even longer playoff system just seems stupid to me. Baseball is not football, nor should it try to be. I also do not like the best 3 out of 5 Division Series. But enough of my "lawn" ramblings.

I'd like to abolish the Wild Card and make it Four Division League. (East, West, North, South). I'd also like them to make the Division Series a 7 game series, like the Championship & World Series are. If you're going to make the baseball postseason longer, then at least make the series somewhat worthwhile. I'd love for them to make it where the team with the best record gets Home Field Advantage, but that's not going to happen due to planning and ticket sales and such. So, just make it alternate like it use to before the All-Star Game nonsense took place.

John: My first choice would be to hold a World Series as the playoffs. Angels vs. Nationals and done.

Recognizing that's not really healthy for the growth the sport and the 30 market model, I would eliminate the divisions. The top 3 records should get the guaranteed spots. It worked out that way this year, but there have been plenty of seasons where the 2nd best record in a league was in the same division as the #1 team.

I'd also be on board for a radical realignment of the divisions with a slightly more balanced schedule. Should the Yankees really be playing the Mets as often as the Angels? Then let's reimagine:

Northern: New York, New York, Boston, Philadelphia, Baltimore, DC
Great Lakes: Toronto, Detroit, Milwaukee, Minnesota, Cleveland
Heartland: Cincinnati, Chicago, Chicago, Kansas City, St. Louis, Pittsburgh
Gulf Coast: Miami, Tampa Bay, Atlanta, Houston, Texas (Arlington)
Southwest: Colorado, Phoenix, San Diego, LA, LA
Pacific Coast: San Francisco, Oakland, Seattle

This time, no AL and NL, no divisions. The top 6 teams get bids, with #7-10 getting the one game play ins. I'll leave the schedule making algorithms to the experts, but teams should play in their division about twice as often as out of division, but ideally they'd round robin the divisions. So each time the Yankees went west they'd play an entire division. Plus the names are way cooler than East, Central and West.

Harlan: The first round of the playoffs needs to be best-of-seven, and I'm no fan of the fifth best team in each league being in the playoffs, but I'm sure someone else will tackle those issues, so I'll focus on something else.

I hate the way the MLB schedules playoff games. Fans wait all year to see their teams in the postseason only to find them on at times when it's difficult to watch - in the afternoon on school/work days and in the middle of the night. Game 3 of the NLCS, for example, will air at 1 PM in San Francisco on a Tuesday, when younger fans - who MLB
supposedly wants to attract - can't see it. There should be a blanket rule where playoff games can't start before 4 PM or after 8 PM in the markets involved, even if it means putting some of them on opposite each other.

Jim: Realistic changes I'd make in order of preference: 1) Go back to two divisions in each league (if the symmetry police is uneasy with a seven-team and eight-team division in each league, then put the Astros back in the NL). The two division winners plus the next best two records in each league make the playoffs. Division winners get home field advantage in a seven-game series against the Wild Card teams to determine LCS teams. 2) Go back to the three division, one Wild Card format used until a couple years ago. 3) Keep the format as is but instead of a one-game Wild Card playoff, make it at least a three-game series.

Andrew: They'd never eliminate extra playoff games at this point, but I would make the LCS round a best-of-five again. As much as I adore Game 7 of the 2003 ALCS, there doesn't really need to be a best-of-seven before the grand finale. They want the season to not overflow into November? This eliminates some of the precious few extra days and makes the World Series even more special.

Alternatively, I would also mandate that the managers be entered into a tournament of the least serious variety. Just imagine Buck Showalter and Bruce Bochy staring each other down with their patented grim looks, then a whistle, and their faces layers deep in a pie-eating contest. Get it done, Manfred.

Bryan: While we have seen amazing, dramatic games from it, I don't especially agree with the one game Wild Card Game because anything can happen in one game. Yes, it does put more incentive on winning your decision, but perhaps making it best 2 out of 3 would work better. A first Wild Card team can win 90 games and lose to the second Wild Card team that collected only 78 wins because of the win or go home, one game scenario. Of course it will extend the baseball season, but what's another few days to an already long season? I also think a lot of people aren't fans of the All-Star Game determining home field advantage for the World Series, so that should be fixed as well. We can return to alternating between leagues, give it to the team with the best overall record, flip a coin, or make it a foot race between the two teams slowest runners. I really hope Brian McCann can win it for us.

Doug: I like the current format, as it has brought more teams into the fold. In the past Cinderella teams such as the Royals and Giants would've been sitting at home. Not only did the Royals and Giants get in as the second Wild Card, but they both handily beat playoff favorites. The only downside is that it has hurt activity at the trade deadline, with more teams being in contention.

Shaun: This might sound controversial but I actually like the one game playoff model that is currently in place. That has honestly shocked me as much as I am certain that comment has surprised many of our readers. When this change was initially announced I could not stand it, but I've found its practice far more enjoyable than I ever could have imagined. What I truly despise though is that division model means that there will be Wild Card teams that will finish with better records than some of the division winners, but due to being in a tough division those teams are penalized with playing a sudden death match-up. My proposal to fix this is to abolish all divisions so there will be just the National League and the American League. The teams with the 3 best records in their respective leagues will earn playoff berths, while the 4th and 5th best teams will play the one game playoff for that final spot.

Matt F.: Well, my personal preference would be to balance the schedules and for the team with the best record in each league to go straight to the World Series. Obviously, that will never be happening, and we're probably never going to see a reduction of teams at this point. My suggestion would be to go to two divisions in each league. Top two in each division make the Division Series with the division winner getting four games at home in the best of five series. I think that would put the emphasis back on winning the division as was one of the goals of the new playoff format. Still not perfect, but no way really is unless we just crown the team with the best record after 162 games as champion. (Which again, I wouldn't totally be opposed to.) And I do like Andrew's suggestion of a pie-eating contest, and I would like to add manager/mascot tag team cage matches to the list of events.

So what do you think? Do you like the playoffs the way they are or do you have some crazy ideas? Leave your suggestions in the comments.