When Major League Baseball changed the postseason format from four teams in each league to five, I wasn’t happy. Why change something that wasn’t broken? Why turn a 162-game season for a team deserving of a postseason berth into one nine-inning game? Why make the postseason even more of a crapshoot for teams which had to play well for six months? Money, of course.
I understood why financially baseball wanted to increase their postseason field. It meant more teams in the playoff picture later in the season and it meant TV money for two more postseason games. But to me, it meant a harder path to a championship for the Yankees. I was right as the Yankees have been screwed over by the two wild-card format more than any other team.
The five-team, wild-card format has done nothing but severely hurt the Yankees since it was implemented in 2012. It gave the Yankees false hope, and stalled their rebuild in both 2013 and 2014, as they were close enough to a wild-card berth for long enough in both seasons to not sell at the deadline, only to miss the playoffs both times. In 2015, the format prevented them from automatically reaching the ALDS without having to play in the one-game as the best non-division winner in the AL. Instead of playing the Royals in the ALDS, they had to face their ultimate kryptonite at the time in Dallas Keuchel. In 2017, it screwed them over again, as they once again were forced to play in the one-game playoff rather than go straight through to the ALDS and play the Indians. And in 2018, for a third time in four years, they had to survive the one-game playoff rather than advance to the ALDS to play the Astros.
It’s bad enough in a season like 2015, the 98-win Pirates and 97-win Cubs had to meet in a one-game playoff, while the 92-win Dodgers and 90-win Mets received free passes to the division series. Under the new format, only the top team in both leagues will receive that free pass to the division. Every other team will have to play best-of-3 to reach the division. So the 2019 103-win Yankees would have had to play a best-of-3 against either the 96-win Rays, 93-win Indians or 84-win Red Sox. A 103-win team wouldn’t have earned an automatic berth in the division series.
I see why this new format is appealing to average teams like the 2019 Red Sox (84 wins) or somewhat decent teams like the 2018 Mariners (89 wins) or crappy teams like 2017 Rays (80 wins) because it rewards medicority (all three of those teams would have reached the postseason under the new seven-team format). If this system were already in place in 2017, the two additionals team in the AL would have both been 80-82. What are we even doing here?
The simple fact the league and its owners are talking about expanding the postseason means it will most likely get expanded. It means more teams with something to play for in August and September, which means better attendance and TV ratings, and it means more postseason games. Right now, the wild-card round only has two games. That would be increased from the lowest possible 12 games to the highest possible 18 games, and that means more ticket sales and concessions and it means more for broadcast money. The only reason to introduce this new format is the same reason the 2012 format was created: money. The league and the owners don’t care if the postseason product is damaged and if an eventual champion was the sixth- or seventh-best team in the league for six months. The actual baseball and fairness of the postseason are a far distant second to the money that could be made by ruining October.
I have never thought a one-game playoff made sense. If anything, I would have done something similar to what MLB wants to do now without adding more teams. I would have the first wild card host the second wild card with the first wild card needing to win one game and the second wild card needing to win two games to advance to the division series. The first wild card would host both games. This format would fit under the current schedule where the Monday after the final day of the regular season is an off day and the games could take place on Tuesday and Wednesday (if needed) with the division series then beginning on Friday. It’s an idea that makes too much though, and that’s why it will never come to fruition.
Whatever new format comes of this might not be as drastic as the idea leaked of having the top teams pick their first-round opponents, but it means there will be more playoff teams in a sport that needs fewer. Nearly half the league (47%) will now get into the playoffs, turning the sport into the NHL and NBA. And whatever new format comes of this, the Yankees will be hurt more than any team with teams being rewarded even more than they currently are for not spending money. Why would you spend more money on your payroll when 80 wins could get you a postseason berth and will at least be enough to keep you in postseason contention to create the perception that you tried to win? Baseball was never meant to be turned into a one-game series or a best-of-3. It’s why it’s played nearly every day for six months and why only four teams at most should have ever been allowed in the postseason.
It was bad enough when a second wild-card team was added. It will be the worst thing ever if a third and fourth wild card are added. Not for the average, medicore, under-.500 teams, but certainly for the Yankees.
My book The Next Yankees Era: My Transition from the Core Four to the Baby Bombers is now available as an ebook!