2012 MLB Postseason – Wild Card and Divisional RoundsMonday, October 8, 2012 21:17
The 2012 MLB Playoffs: analyzing the new Wild Card Round and what transpired in it, and thoughts on the teams remaining in the Divisional Round.
Wild Card Wildness
For whatever reason, I remained unusually silent about Major League Baseball’s new playoff format starting with the currently running postseason when it was announced. Indeed, I was of mixed feelings. I am a baseball traditionalist, a student of the history of the game, so I meet any such change with some trepidation. On the other hand, I understand that games must evolve with the times, even if the major motivation for doing so is money.
In addition, for all my trepidation about Interleague Play and the introduction of the first Wild Card team for each league, I have to admit that both have added excitement and interest to the game. There, I’ve said it.
So when the announcement was made that Major League Baseball was adding two more Wild Card teams and that the two Wild Cards in each league would play each other in a single, winner-take-all game to advance to the Divisional Round, my reaction was…surprisingly accepting.
To be sure, I agree with many of the criticisms offered up by the skeptics. One game in baseball is never enough to determine the better team. That’s why the World Series has always been at least a best of seven series–and as many as nine games several times early in the 20th century. Quite simply, it takes that many games to even out the quirks and vagaries of a sport in which the better team only wins 60%-65% of the time. Not to mention that a single bad call could cost a team a chance to move on without any additional games with which to compensate–exactly what happened in the very first Wild Card game ever on a bogus infield fly call. What were the odds of that?
For that reason I’ve always hoped that MLB would extend the Divisional Round series to seven games.
But one-game, winner-take-all does have precedence in baseball, being the way the American League determined league and divisional winners if a tie existed at the end of the regular season. For the National League, it was traditionally a three-game series; since the advent of the Wild Card, it has been one game in both leagues if there was a tie for the Wild Card spot. Keeping the new Wild Card round to only one game avoids the concerns about overextending the season, which many believe runs too late into the year as is.
Most importantly for me accepting the change in format is that there is only one additional Wild Card team and that the one-game Wild Card round only affects the two Wild Card teams in each league. The division winners aren’t subjected to that anything-can-happen situation; their regular success still means as much as it did in the previous format and thus winning a division has greater value than being a Wild Card.
After all the Wild Card Round dust has cleared, however, we are left with a lot to like in MLB’s final eight. The Baltimore Orioles have been the picture of mediocrity for 16 years; not only are the Orioles back, but they have the chance to avenge the Justin Maier travesty of 1996 against the Yankees (series now tied at 1-1). The Cincinnati Reds may have ended 15 years of futility in 2010, but they didn’t win a postseason game until this year. The Oakland “Moneyball” Athletics have been the model of small market baseball economics for many years, finding a way to survive and compete, maybe not every year, but often enough. And then there are the Washington Nationals, putting all the rest of these to shame, a franchise whose entire history has been abysmal, eight excruciating years in Washington, DC, after 36 years as the Montreal Expos which only saw one postseason birth…and even that came in the strike-shortened 1981 season.
Four teams that anyone can root for–all of which can make their respective League Championship Series.
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