The MLB postseason kicked off Tuesday night when the Yankees' hopes of making it past the first game were crushed by a dominant Dallas Keuchel. The Yankees' offense looked lifeless from the start, and the Astros were admittedly the better team that night. The following day, the Pirates bowed out of the postseason after being shut out in the Wild Card game for the second consecutive year. Cubs' pitcher Jake Arrieta was able to get the best of the Pirates, who only made it into the postseason through one of the wild card spots, despite the fact that they had the second best record in all of baseball this season. When the Wild Card game was introduced several years ago, it was said to be a way of allowing additional teams to enjoy the playoffs, but this one-game format seems like more of a marketing ploy designed to garner viewers than anything else. MLB should really consider changing the format to something that more closely follows the format of the series played during the regular season.
In 2012, Major League Baseball decided to expand the postseason format from eight teams to ten, which led to the creation of the Wild Card game. Bud Selig, the commissioner at the time, explained this decision by saying "This change increases the rewards of a division championship and allows two additional markets to experience playoff baseball each year." The first half of Selig's statement is true. It obviously would have been much better for the Yankees if they had won the division and been able to avoid having their fate determined by one game. The second half of Selig's statement is also technically true, but getting to play in one game is not much of a playoff experience at all. Especially after wrapping up a long and grueling 162-game season.
From a fan perspective, it is absolutely nerve-wracking to watch your favorite team play one game that will decide if they continue in the postseason. Casual viewers with no interest in either team might be the only people who find the Wild Card game exciting (or fans of the team who takes an early lead). From a baseball perspective, it makes very little sense to have a one-game playoff. These teams play 162 games a year that are mostly broken into three-game and four-game series. In rare situations, there will be a two-game series on the schedule, which is usually interleague play, as was the case this season when the Yankees played the Nationals two games away, and two games at home. The one-game Wild Card format is therefore completely unlike anything that these teams experience in the regular season. In the regular season, a team might drop the first game in a three-game series, then turn things around the next two days and end up winning the series. In the Wild Card game, if your team is having an off day then it's the end of the season. The format of the Wild Card game seems to make even less sense when juxtaposed to the formats of the Division Series, Championship Series and World Series, which are best-of-five and best-of-seven series, respectively. If a team makes it that far in the postseason, they get more chances than usual to try and win, but the wild card teams are punished with less time than usual.
When Rob Manfred took over as the new commissioner, he brought up the idea of baseball reverting back to the 154-game season that it moved away from in the 1960s. Making a switch like this would allow players to get more rest during the regular season, and could help to reduce injuries. If the regular season was shorter, there would be plenty of extra days remaining to expand the Wild Card format from one game to a best-of-three series. One of the biggest concerns that arises during the postseason, almost every year, is that the playoffs are stretching into November and that the weather is getting cold. Maybe that has something to do with the reasoning behind the current one-game format for the Wild Card game, but if the season was shortened, there would be enough time left to make it a longer series without pushing the postseason any deeper into late October/early November. A three-game series would be much more in line with what teams are used to experiencing during the regular season, and it would feel more fair.
Speaking of fair, something should also be done to address the fact that the teams with the second and third best records in baseball this season were forced to play against each other in the NL Wild Card game. It would make more sense if the three teams with the best record in each league automatically advanced to the postseason while the teams with the fourth and fifth best records played each other in the Wild Card game. If that had been the case in the American League this season, the Yankees and Astros still would have ended up playing against each other. However, the Cubs and Pirates, both of which finished a few games shy of 100 wins, would have advanced to the Division Series, while the Mets and Dodgers played the Wild Card game. At least that way the best teams would be rewarded, instead of being punished for having the unfortunate luck of playing in the best division in baseball.
What do you think of the Wild Card game format and how do you think it could be improved?