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The Broken MLB Wild Card Round

With the Wild Card round wrapped up, the flaws of the new playoff format have become more apparent than ever. From terrible seeding to the excessive number of teams eligible, the entire balance of the postseason is all out of sorts.

Changing up the format for the playoffs was necessary in a shortened season, however, Rob Manfred has been wanting to expand the playoffs for years and this adjusted season gives him an opportunity to keep a similar format beyond the 2020 season. If an expanded bracket style playoff is here to stay, there needs to be alterations made to balance out the fairness.

As of right now, the regular season is essentially meaningless with teams either being in or out. There is barely any advantage for the higher seeds, therefore the incentive is really just to make it to the postseason to have a chance. Because of these complications, it is crucial that improvements are made to this system.

With the current sixteen team bracket, the value of winning the division becomes miniscule. Mediocre and sub .500 teams are being rewarded and teams that had phenomenal regular seasons are getting swindled. One and two seeds were put in the same situations as teams who may have had ten to fifteen fewer wins, with the gap surely widening with a full 162 game schedule.

This disparity in competition was very evident in the wild card round. Both the Tampa Bay Rays and Los Angeles Dodgers handled their first-round matchups fairly easily in two game sweeps. Milwaukee, who did not see a day above .500 this season, were able to squeeze into the postseason, yet their lackluster play showed itself against the best team in baseball. Same went for Toronto against the peak of the American League. Both two seeds were able to defeat the seven seeds, however, those matchups were definitely questionable as a result of seeding placements.

Blue Jays Rays Baseball
AP Photo/Chris O’Meara

Manfred’s playoffs this season had the best eight teams from each league make the postseason. It seems simple enough, similar to how the NBA and NHL work, except this format does not have the best eight teams in. Instead of just seeding the teams based off pure record, division plays a factor. Therefore, the first and second place teams in each division are not only guaranteed a playoff spot, but a top six seed.

A blasphemous decision by Major League Baseball that hurts division winners, protects the weaker divisions, and hurts the stronger wild card teams. The American League is a prime example of how broken this system is with the final few games of the regular season completely altering the layout of the AL playoffs because the Chicago White Sox went cold.

Chicago was the best team in the AL Central for most of the season, but they struggled down the stretch and Cleveland had the tiebreaker over them. Since the White Sox fell to the first wild card spot, it put them below the Houston Astros. This team that should have probably been banned from the postseason this year anyway because of their 2017 cheating scandal finished two games under .500. They did not deserve to be ahead of a team that had six more wins than them.

With this thirty-five-win team falling to seven, it caused the two seed Oakland Athletics to have a much less favorable matchup. Instead of playing a team like Toronto or Houston, both significantly worse than Chicago on paper, the Athletics had to play a team that nearly won their division.

They were able to overcome the feisty White Sox in three games, but this situation should have never been possible. The entire fiasco is a domino effect too, as Houston was able to face slightly weaker competition in the Minnesota Twins in place of the Athletics or Rays. Houston was able to advance, when they should have never even been in the postseason, while the White Sox got eliminated because of the difficulty of their division. This format is anything but fair.

The National League played out somewhat more predictably with the exception of one series which just emphasizes the issues with the format. The Chicago Cubs won the NL Central pretty handily and ended up getting swept by the Miami Marlins. They played two bad games, which is understandable; the Wild Card Game consisted of one winner-take-all game. However, the issue is that the Cubs won their division and they earned that postseason spot, as opposed to a Marlins team that were second in their division and just barely above .500.

Credit has to be given to Miami, who had a solid season and played well at Wrigley Field, but winning your division in baseball should have more merit. The Cubs were the third best division winner, but they could have just as easily been the 43-17 Dodgers had the Brewers caught fire and eliminated them.

Higher seeds and division winners need protection because they earned it. The only benefit of being a higher seed is getting the series in their home ballpark, but with no fans this postseason, that factor becomes minor. It clearly did not help teams like the Cubs, Indians, and Twins, who all got swept at home. That is why the introduction of a bye would help this problem substantially.

Marlins knock out Cubs 2-0 in MLB postseason
Nam Y. Huh/Associated Press

There are too many teams in the playoffs. Sixteen out of thirty teams making the postseason is utterly ridiculous. Over half of the eligible teams will see October, which takes away from the value of the regular season. There were four teams in each league before 2012, with the three division winners and one wild card. From 2012-2019, there were five teams in the postseason, with an additional wild card added to include more teams into the mix down the stretch.

Manfred has wanted to increase the number of teams to create more excitement, but it has done the contrary. These top-heavy teams beat down on the weaker rosters that should not even be there, while some of the teams that snuck their way into positions through circumstance have taken advantage. The wild card round is really a free-for-all with more chaos than anything else. People may look at that as a positive, but equality based off record is no longer relevant. 

There is no doubt that the postseason will expand from the five teams in each league during a traditional season, but there is a better way to go about it than repeating the circus that was the 2020 Wild Card round. Cutting two teams from each league would solve two issues. It would eliminate teams that do not deserve to be in the postseason, and it would create byes for higher seeds.

Three game series was one aspect of this postseason that was an improvement from the one game wild card that has been going on. Having a winner-take-all game is extremely fun and exciting, with two aces usually duking it out, but banking an entire 162-game season on one game is risky and most teams prefer to play a series. Baseball throughout the regular season is never played one game at a time, therefore the playoffs should not change that up.

Pinder delivers timely hit, A's advance in playoffs at last
Eric Risberg/Associated Press

Another adjustment that needs to be made is who makes it into the playoffs. Reducing the number from eight to six would make it more exclusive again, but it should not just be the second-best team in each division. Every division winner should make the postseason and three wild cards should be available for all teams, no matter the division. Similar to how the NL Central had four playoff teams this season, division should not dictate a wild card spot.

The top two seeds in each league should receive a bye to the division series. While the third-best division winner plays the bottom wild card and the first and second wild card play each other in a three-game set. The bottom division winner would be getting the short end of the stick; however, it would put more emphasis on obtaining the best record, having every team playing until the end to earn that bye. This proposal would stop the undeserving teams from sneaking in, while also increasing competition in the regular season and the postseason.

This season was truly experimental with the bracket being added. It was okay to change it up temporarily because of the difficulties involving a shortened season, but the holes in the current format are impossible to ignore. Baseball is great because of the sense of balance and fairness it provides. That is why when teams cheat or players use performance-enhancing drugs, people get so riled up because it ruins the balance of the game.

The stability of the sport is in shambles right now because of the controversy of the playoffs. There is no cheating going on, but it does not seem fair. Confusion is really the only way to describe the current playoff configuration. Certain teams that were eliminated because of poor matchups could have probably increased their odds had they lost a few more games because of the bizarre format.

That is outrageous, as losing is never something accepted in sports. Players strive to win and being punished for it is preposterous. The MLB playoffs are broken, and something needs to change.

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