Thursday, October 18, 2012

The coming World Series

Earlier this evening the Tigers finished off the Yankees in the ALCS, sweeping them in four straight. Over in the NL, the Cardinals lead the Giants in their series, and with a 3-1 advantage I doubt anyone would be too surprised if St. Louis advances there. The thing about all that which strikes me as interesting: Of all the teams that qualified for the baseball postseason this year, the Tigers and the Cardinals had the worst regular season records, each winning only 88 games while every other playoff team won at least 93.

Detroit qualified not by having one of the five best AL records but by being better than the rest of the AL Central; both of the wildcards as well as two teams that didn't even make the playoffs (the Rays and Angels) had more wins than the Tigers, but those teams all had the misfortune to be located closer to either coast instead of being more geographically in the middle of the country. Going by record alone, disregarding divisions, the Tigers weren't particularly close to the top five in the AL, but nonetheless they will be the league's representative in the World Series.

Had the playoff structure not been revised for this season to include two wildcard teams rather than only one (such as was the case for the past 17 years) St. Louis would have been left out of the postseason altogether. They at least could claim to have the fifth-best record in the NL, however.

So we're already halfway to a World Series where the teams that end up competing for the championship are the ones that barely did well enough to qualify for that. The teams that had the best regular season records—who won the most of the 162 games that all teams play—won't have any more games this year. (The Nationals couldn't keep a lead against the Cardinals in the deciding game of the NLDS, and didn't even move on to the next round.)

Is this bad? Perhaps. If you think that the tremendous grind of the baseball season should reward the teams who are most victorious, which does seem fair, then the entire playoff system is a poor idea. We should resume the pre-division era structure of the best AL team and the best NL team (by record) meet in the World Series, with no preliminary rounds to get there.

Of course, that leaves a lot more teams' fans out in the proverbial cold, and it's not as exciting. The clash of the figurative titans lacks the potential for an underdog to claw their way to lifting the trophy, which even if that isn't what ends up happening is still something where people tend to like the possibility it could.

As I've already noted in other posts, baseball is not growing in popularity, and it does seem like what gets the casual fan interested is the postseason, where the games "matter"; when playing 162 games, it's difficult to think of any individual game (especially before the All-Star break) as "critical." Thus, it stands to reason having more teams qualify for the playoffs is better for the sport's ultimate popularity (even if it semi-alienates the diehard fan). Also, if these teams won so many of those 162 it stands to reason they should be able to a mere seven more to get to the Fall Classic.

Does the playoff format necessarily result in the best World Series matchup? Perhaps not, but if that's what one wants then one should abandon having the teams face-off in series to see who moves on but simply put it to a vote of the fans or sports writers or something. Of course, that would ensure the Yankees would be in that popularity series, possibly against the Nationals, and even as anemic as the Bronx "Bombers" offense proved against the Tigers, a Yankees vs. anybody series probably would draw better TV ratings for Fox than will Detroit vs. either the Cardinals or Giants.

But if we're going for mere ratings, irrespective of anything else, the Yankees would be in it every year. The National League would battle for the right to compete against them.

How boring would that be? (Even for New York fans the novelty would wear off.)

So, casual fans and diehards alike, embrace what we have, and be open to increasing the playoffs (perhaps to more teams or at least to the wildcards playing more than a single-elimination game). The sport has to avoid becoming mundane (even if it's not entirely fair), or there's really no point in it continuing to be played.


Okay, let's boil it down to how it really works: If your team makes it to the playoffs, you like the format; if your team doesn't, then it's a horrible system.

1 comment:

  1. I don't have a favorite team, so you're right, the system stinks. Though I do like the Cubs a bit. Not enough to really care, though.


So, what do you think?