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Fine-Tuning the Playoffs
2003-03-20 08:44
by Jon Weisman

Though others have been converted, I'm still not in favor of the wild card. And I say that even though I thoroughly enjoyed the spirited Angels' run through the playoffs last year. To me, a great pennant race is still supreme. And I'm willing to let a 100-win second-place team miss the playoffs in order to preserve that.

That said, Tom Verducci reported a new wild-card proposal on this week that I think has a lot of merit. Since the wild-card is never going to go away, I'm going to put in my support for this idea.

Verducci writes:

1. Each league gets two wild-card teams -- that is, the two non-division winners with the best records advance to the playoffs, as opposed to the current system in which only one wild card is awarded.

2. The two wild cards face off in a one-game playoff the day after the regular season ends. The winner advances to play one of the division champs in a Division Series, with the rest of the playoffs proceeding as currently set up.

As Verducci points out, not only would this winner-take-all wild card give teams a needed extra incentive to win their divisions, but it would also put the winning wild-card team at a disadvantage in the next round of the playoffs, because they will have needed to use a good pitcher just to get there. This all makes sense.

I also think the wild-card playoff game is a good way to jump-start the excitement of the playoffs - like a snappy cold opening on a TV show before the opening credits and first act begin.

Verducci says that another option that is more in favor right now is to extend the first round of the playoffs from best-of-five to best-of-seven. While this does reduce the chance of a wild-card team with one or two hot starters trumping a more balanced division winner, I don't think it addresses the problems with the current playoff structure as efficiently as the wild-card single-game playoff does.

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