This is the third entry in a series of MLB debates, focusing on all baseball-related topics. Victor Barbosa and Eric Schaal will be writing pieces about what’s trending across the league, offering analysis and opinion on a particular topic in a point-counterpoint format. Up next, whether the do-or-die wild card game format needs to be changed.
Although the Major League Baseball Wild Card games are still relatively new, the do-or-die, single elimination contests at the start of the postseason have already spurred controversy. After baseball purists were finally getting used to this thing called a “wild card” team in each league — a change that was implemented in 1994 by former Commissioner Bud Selig — a second bonus squad for the American and National Leagues were added to the ring for the 2012 season.
For the past four years now, the MLB playoffs have kicked off with what is essentially a one-game playoff to see who gets to advance to a division series. The prize for the winners of the wild card games: facing their respective league’s best team (record-wise) from the regular season.
There are a range of arguments for and against the format, but it appears that some of the more common oppositions say that a single game to determine who makes it to the elite eight is simply unfair. Fans of the New York Yankees and Pittsburgh Pirates know this feeling all too well right now.
This article will look at the other side of the coin though and state why the wild card format is fine the way that it is.
Do you really think the 2014 MLB playoffs would have been as interesting without the San Francisco Giants and/or Kansas City Royals magical runs to the fall classic? Without last year’s wild card games, we would not have been able to witness Madison Bumgarner’s mastery through October. We may not have been able to see the Royals’ shocking slew of comebacks and clutch performances (although they were the higher-ranked wild card team in 2014 anyways.)
When you look back to 2013, the additional wild card gave the city of Pittsburgh a chance to host a league playoff-opener for the first time in forever. While they did end up falling to the St. Louis Cardinals in the NLDS, we saw Pirates nation come to life in their opening-win against the Cincinnati Reds; not to mention the five-game classic against the heavily-favored Cards. Then in 2012 — the beginning of the additional wild card experiment — we saw the Cardinals as the beneficiary of likely the most controversial infield fly ruling in baseball history. It was controversial, but generated buzz and excitement nonetheless.
The bottom line here is that the second wild card and the subsequent wild card contests have generated thrilling drama and mega-ratings for the league. And that’s what it’s all about right? The league has made lots and lots of additional money and the fans have been entertained to the max.
The other critical argument to why the wild card game format is fine the way it is the added incentive teams have to winning their division now. In 2015, the Toronto Blue Jays, Kansas City Royals, Texas Rangers, New York Mets, St. Louis Cardinals, and Los Angeles Dodgers had the luxury of relaxing earlier this week as the Astros and Cubs survived their wild card game tilts. If there wasn’t enough incentive to be the most consistent team in your division through the dog days of summer, now there certainly is.
All data courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com.
Follow Victor on Twitter @vbarbosa1127.