Baseball Should Not Expand the Wild Card to a Best-of-Three Series

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By Brad Arnett – Last Word on Baseball

Last Word on Baseball is polling the masses to see what fans think about expanding Major League Baseball’s Wild Card round to a best-of-three series, vice the current one-and-done format. While a lot of good comes with expansion of the Wild Card playoff, it’s not the best move for baseball. However, it does rate a discussion and analysis of the pros and cons.

Baseball Should Not Expand the Wild Card to a Best-of-Three Series

Initially, one would easily conclude that it’s time to expand. However, that is arguable. Despite extra games and revenue from televised games, it would actually have an adverse effect on the next round. The Wild Card game schedules correspond to the end of the regular season and the extra games would slide the first few League Division Series (LDS) games past the weekend (beyond Game 1). For sure, neither baseball, or the networks want that. The current Wild Card format ensures several LDS games are played during the weekend, which is optimal.

After 162 Games, Eliminated in Just One?

Quite fairly, a valid argument can be made that it’s ridiculous to play a grueling 162-game schedule to earn a playoff berth, only to be knocked out in just one game. Basketball and hockey play just half that many regular season games, but even their first round playoff series’ go best-of-seven. On the other hand, NFL playoffs are all win or go home. But they play 16 physically grueling games to get there, so the playoffs will never be a series. Of the major professional sports, beyond football, the MLB Wild Card is the one place that does a one-game elimination. So, how can that be good?

Off-the-Charts Excitement

The answer is quite simply this: the excitement surrounding those two Wild Card games is off the charts. In fact, any baseball fan will tell you that it’s must-see TV. Get the hot dogs, popcorn, and favorite beverages ready for those two evenings because they will have no plans beyond the Wild Card playoffs.

Although it’s true that the games are sometimes a bust (the Pittsburgh Pirates 8-0 loss to the San Francisco Giants in 2014 immediately comes to mind), there have been far more white knuckle games. In fact, the American League Wild Card games have gone extra innings two of the last three years. The Kansas City Royals 2014 run to the World Series began with a 12-inning, 9-8 win over the Oakland Athletics. Also, many become a probable pitcher’s duel because a team is forced to keep their season going by pitching their best available hurler.

Wild Card Game is to be Avoided

Part of why Major League Baseball added a second Wild Card team and the Wild Card playoff is because teams saw no real incentive to win their respective divisions. Beyond the pride of being division champion, which carried little weight, gaining the Wild Card was nearly as good. This led to apathy for games at the end of the season, which could have otherwise had meaning and excitement. Now, facing a one-game elimination is something to be avoided at all costs, which results in higher motivation for teams to win their division.

Additionally, the need to use the aforementioned best pitcher to advance, either to get to the Wild Card game or to win it, is a distinct disadvantage going into the LDS. Again, the Wild Card game is a game you don’t want to play if you don’t have to.

Back to Where We Were

Given these factors, if the Wild Card was a best-of-three series, it would not loom as a specter to steer clear of, if at all possible. Beyond being forced to play a quick series, teams would actually feel much better about playing in the Wild Card, even view them as a potential catalyst to gain momentum going forward. That, in turn, would relegate those end of season games back toward potential irrelevance and the same indifference that previously existed.

Baseball Got it Right

Without question, it’s currently maddening for two teams, who had great seasons, to be done in the blink of an eye. But the positive aspects of two, one-game Wild Card games, clearly exceeds the advantages of expanding to a best-of-three series. For all the things that professional leagues get wrong, MLB was spot on when it expanded to a two-team Wild Card berth, as well as making it a single game, win or go home, playoff to advance.
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