The New York Yankees emerged from the four division series as the only team that had an easy time moving on. Of course, for Yankee fans, that was a lot of fun. For Twins' fans, not so much. But the other three series have been utterly fascinating while going the distance. We had a blowout Game Five in Atlanta as the Cardinals surprisingly moved on. And we had heartbreak in Los Angeles for Clayton Kershaw and the Dodgers. Tonight we find out who will emerge from the remaining division series as those scrappy Rays take the Astros to the limit.
The five-game series format of the division series does post angst of whether it is the best format for this stage of the Major League Baseball season. It seems to make it easier that the best team can be beaten in the frenzy. The Dodgers were easily the best team in the National League and they are going home. If the Rays pull off the impossible and beat the Astros tonight, then the best team in the American League will go home. That is a big "If" of course. But if it does, that means that both of the bests and most favored in their respective leagues will end their seasons against wildcard teams.
The wildcard gives those teams the sense of being the underdog with absolutely no pressure. The underdog is not expected to win. So they can play with abandon while the Number One seeds have all the pressure to go the distance because of the expectations. Since the five-game format does lead to such excitement, and because nobody wants to play baseball in the snow, I would leave that format as is, but I would make one tweak.
There has to be a bigger benefit for a top seed against a wildcard team. There has to be a premium for having the best record and winning a division. A wildcard team does not have home field advantage with the 2-2-1 format. But I think the format still gives a wildcard team a route to get a playoff series win. If the wildcard wins its two games at home, then you are guaranteed a Game Five (unless the wildcard team took one of the first two on the road). And anything can happen in a Game Five as we have seen.
I propose that the wildcard team only gets one home game out of the five. Again, there needs to be a reason to win a division and have the best record. Would a team such as the Yankees have fought harder down the stretch for the best record in the AL if they knew it meant four home games in the division series? I think so. As for the wildcard team, there has to be a real disadvantage for not winning a division. I think a 2-1-2 format does that.
This will never happen, of course, as there would be an outcry from the Nationals or the Rays about lost revenue. But my answer to them would be, "Then win the division!" If you think about it, the wildcard teams have just as much of a shot as the Twins and Cardinals received. I don't think that's right. There has to be a real benefit for winning the division and a real cost for not winning a division.
The National League Championship Series will feature the unlikely match-up of the Nationals against the Cardinals with the Cardinals getting a 4-3 home field advantage. I am not sure I would mess with that as a seven-game series seems to benefit the best team. But if a wildcard was involved, you could make it a 5-2 split something like 2-2-3. But, again, the seven-game format does make it harder for the emotional edge a five-game series gives a team as an underdog.
The American League is yet to be determined. And even though my Yankees are involved, I would want them to play the Astros. You want the two best teams slugging it out. There is a reason a heavyweight fight draws more than a welterweight. Plus, having half the games (or three of them) in that abomination of a stadium in St. Pete is not good for baseball. Plus, the Yankees have played the Rays 19 times already. Enough already! Facing the Rays in the ALCS is like playing Whack-A-Mole after winning the division over them in the first place.
It has been a fascinating playoffs already. And the buzz is good for baseball. You cannot ask for much better than having three of the four series go the distance. On the other hand, you want the best teams slugging it out in the Championship Series and the current format only gives division winners a slight advantage of making that happen. With apologies to wildcard teams and not denigrating the accomplishment of making it as a wildcard team, there should be a bigger penalty for not winning the division. We need to make it harder for Davy to beat Goliath.