I can already hear the grumblings after the first elimination games brought to us by Bud Selig’s extra Wild Card. Traditionalists crying about this newfangled era of baseball, shouting from the rooftops about the old days and purity. The losing teams’ fans crying “We got screwed,” swearing that their team would’ve proved to be the better squad had it been a best-of-three series. Sports talk radio shows will field calls from countless folks babbling about how it’s changed the game of baseball for the worse.
Yet, none of these opinions will matter. Major League Baseball has made up their minds – the playoffs are expanding.
Major League Baseball’s Burners
It’s almost shocking how quickly the expanded Wild Card was approved. After all, every change in baseball is made at a natural selection-like pace, and it seems like only a few months ago that the idea was first proposed.
Meanwhile, the A’s new stadium proposal in San Jose remains on Major League Baseball’s “front burner,” but has yet to have its fate decided. Oakland fans must wonder how exactly the MLB’s stove is constructed.
The Elimination Chamber
The one-game playoff seems completely contrary to everything that baseball is about. The regular season is a long, drawn out marathon. Games seem to lack importance when there are 162 of them. Instead, those games add up to “series wins.” Zoom out even more and you’ll find that a team’s dominance is measured by how well they did in a “season series.” The common belief is that ball clubs prove their superiority over a number of games – that too many variables can dictate the outcome of one game. If that’s the case, then why didn’t the MLB make it a best-of-three?
Perhaps baseball is taking a page from the NFL’s book. Football is a far too grueling sport to force teams to play even a best-of-three series. One play can result in a season ending injury, and one injury can result in a season’s fate changed. There is no choice but to play sudden death elimination playoff games in football, but that’s what’s so exciting about it. There is nothing more intense, more gut-wrenching, more butterfly-inducing than the single game elimination. It explains in large part why the NFL is so popular – “win or go home” is how we like our competition. The NFL gives us that in the playoffs, and it’s wildly popular because of it.
The dichotomy of a single game playoff will act as an exhilarating change of pace for baseball. Imagine it – you’ve just come to the end of a long regular season. The final match ups have been set and it’s time for the playoffs to begin. The hor dourve for your October baseball will be these high intensity wild card games. Fans will be shot into the postseason as if out of a cannon.
A couple Giant benefits
Giants fans should be particularly excited about this new development. As Bay Area Sports Guy pointed out, the Giants would have made the playoffs 4 more times had this wild card been around since 1997.
The story lines around these games will be intriguing as well – pitching rotations will be thrown off even more for the divisional series with the respective wild card teams putting their aces out for the one game playoff. No problem for the Giants, though, as they’d likely open with Madison Bumgarner and Matt Cain when they advance to the NLDS. Not much of a drop-off.
Up until now, baseball fans only got this kind of excitement when a Game 7 came around. Now they’ll be ensured of enjoying that intensity to start off every post season for the foreseeable future. The purists will whine about the past, and the losers will fall back on the notion that they got snubbed. The winners will celebrate, perhaps acknowledging in their minds that the Wild Card system DID cut them a break. But no one will be able to deny once they experience it, that the one-game wild card will make for some truly dramatic baseball.