MLB playoff format needs radical adjustments


Wrigley Field, home of the Chicago Cubs. The Cubs were forced to play in the Wild Card game despite having the second best record in the NL.


The NL Wild Card game kicked off the MLB playoffs, with the 95 win Chicago Cubs losing to the 91 win Colorado Rockies.  It was a thrilling game that started at 8:00 p.m. last Tuesday night and didn’t finish until 1:00 a.m.Wednesday morning. The final score was 2-1. The game featured great pitching on both sides, timely clutch hitting and lots of shifts in momentum. Sounds great, right?

No, it wasn’t great. All the flaws of the MLB’s playoff system were exposed during this riveting game.  

Neither team deserved this fate. After playing 162 games during the regular season, actually 163 since both teams had to play an extra tiebreaker game, having your season determined by one game doesn’t seem fair.

The MLB introduced the double wild card format in 2012. Prior to this, there had only been one wild card team in each league. The wild card team would go straight to the division series and face the team with the best record in the league, so there was no wild card game.

I’m all for two wild card teams making it into the playoffs, but the way it’s set up right now makes the wild card game feel like a play in game to get into the playoffs, rather than the actual playoffs itself.

The MLB regular season spans 162 games. So having everything come down to one game on one night is pretty silly. It becomes even more silly when you think about the format of those 162 regular season games. Every team plays their regular season games in three or four game series, meaning one team plays another team for three or four consecutive days, before moving on to play a different team. It’s not like football or basketball where teams typically play one opponent one day, and then play another team for their next game.

Over the course of 162 games, no team is going to 162-0. So on any given day, a really bad team can have one good day and beat a really good team having an off day. This rings true in any sport, but especially baseball since the season is so long.

For example, the Baltimore Orioles finished the season at 47-115 and were by far the worst team in baseball. The Boston Red Sox finished the season 108-54, which was the best record in the league. Yet, when these teams played a four game series against each other from September 24-26, the Orioles still managed to win one game by a score of 10-3. The Red Sox won the other three games and the series, proving that they’re the better overall team because they can sustain success, whereas the Orioles got lucky for one day. This is to say that beating a team in baseball one time, and one time only, doesn’t prove anything.

The wild card game format should be switched to a best of three series, where a team must win two games to advance. Everything in baseball is determined by a series of victories so why should the wild card game be any different? The current format may make for exciting theater, but it doesn’t accurately show who the better team is.

On top of this, the Cubs shouldn’t have played in the wild card game. The Cubs finished with the second best record in the National League, yet were slotted into the playoffs as a 4 seed simply because they did not win their division.

The Cubs played in the best division in the National League, finishing second place to the Milwaukee Brewers. Both teams finished with the same regular season record, meaning a tie breaker game had to be played to determine who would avoid playing in the wild card game. The Brewers won, becoming the number 1 seed and getting home field advantage throughout the playoffs, while the Cubs had their fate determined by one game despite having the second best record in the NL.

Baseball’s current playoff format goes as follows: the three division winners in the league all go straight to the division series, avoiding a one game wild card, while the two best non-division winning teams play each other in the wild card game. The three division winners in the NL this year were the Atlanta Braves, who won the NL East with a record of 90-72, the Brewers, who won the NL Central with a record of 96-67, and the Los Angeles Dodgers, who won the NL West with a record of 92-71. The Cubs finished with a record of 95-68. A record superior to both the Braves and the Dodgers, yet the Cubs were the ones in the wild card game. Essentially, the Braves and the Dodgers were rewarded for playing in a much weaker division than the Cubs.

Despite proving themselves to be the better team over the course of the regular season, the Cubs were given a much tougher playoff road than the Braves or Dodgers. Does that make any sense?

To be frank, it really is quite simple math. The playoff seeding should be determined by records, and records only. The Cubs finished with the 2nd best record in the NL, so they should have been the two seed. The Braves finished with the 5th best record in the NL, so they deserved the five seed and should have played in the wild card game.

It’s time baseball stops hyping up the importance of winning divisions, stops making decisions based on what’s good for TV ratings and shifts to a playoff format that accurately places teams where they belong.