The farce of the MLB playoffs...and the NCAA tournament?
Maybe this came to my attention because my favorite team, the Angels, went out in the first round. Probably. But I hate the way the Major League Baseball Playoffs are done. It starts with the play-in game. The first joke. Why was the wild card invented? To make money, yes, to add another team to the playoff mix, yes, to keep more fans involved, yes, but I think there is a legitimate reason. Lets say the two best teams in a League are in the same division. Well then one would be shit out of luck. So by having a wild card, you allow what is the next best team behind a division winner into the playoffs. I think that is valid and fair.
Now they just invented the second wild card. Why? To keep more teams in the mix, to keep more fans in involved and excited for their team, and to make more money. The play in game gets great ratings because its do or die. But here is the problem...It devalues the original wild card team. The best team that didn't win their division is in the playoffs, except their not. Now they have to play one game just to get in. Yes I understand its a home game. But the reason why baseball plays so many games is because the differences between teams is so small that it takes a lot of games to establish who is better. So now this team that has won the wild card is no longer in, they have to win another game just to get in. Which means they have to use their best pitcher and as much of their bullpen as necessary to ensure they actually get in. And then the reward for winning that game is to go on the road the play the team with the best record in the League, with their number 2 pitcher vs the other teams number 1 pitcher. And yes I know both of those teams won the series this year, but that is a short term sample size. In the long run the home team will win that series most of the time because they have a huge advantage.
The second problem I have is with the first round of the playoffs. Of the sports that do playoff "series" and not single games, baseball is the only one that has a five game first round. Hockey and basketball are the other two, and they both play seven game first round series. Hockey and basketball both play 82 games, meaning that a seven game playoff series is equivalent to about 9% of their season. Baseball plays a five games series which is equal to 3% of their season. This is where I believe it is a farce. Why does baseball play so many games? Because the difference between teams is so small. The edges between the teams are tiny. A team or player that bats .300 is significantly better that a team or player that bats .280, but the difference between those two is 20 hits out of 1000. That is nothing. So the only way to distinguish between these teams is to play a ton of games so that those tiny edges between the teams has enough time to be shown. In the short term any team can beat any team. That is why a bottom feeder like the Astros can sweep the Yankees and its not that huge of a deal because its just small variance over the course of a long season. As writing this I think you can see where my argument comes in. It takes 162 games to separate the teams, then why decide a playoff series in 5? Or in 1 as the case with the play in game? In my opinion it devalues the regular season. Year after year it comes down to the last game of the season in some divisions as to who gets in the playoffs. So your telling me that 162 games in we can barely decide who is better, but now we are gonna decide in 5 games? I think its ridiculous. Your counter argument is well 7 isn't many more, to make it fair, they should play 15 or 21. And I actually agree with that, but it isn't realistic because no one would watch and it would stretch the season to basically year round.
A couple years ago, before the second wild card was introduced, the Giants and Royals wouldn't even be in the playoffs, now one of them will win the world series. Baseball isn't crowning the best team in baseball, its crowning the hottest. The Royals went 14-12 in September, limping into the playoffs on the last day of the season. Is that the best team in baseball? Of course not, but they are allowed to play in the playoff tournament with a chance to win the whole thing.
My last point is this...in Europe and most other countries, soccer is their #1 sport. And those leagues don't have playoffs. And you think well they are behind the times, they don't understand blah blah blah. No. They don't have playoffs because they believe the regular season is the playoffs. They believe that every game is a playoff game and the team who has the best season is the champion. They don't say "hey, you were the best team all season long but that is not good enough, you have to prove it again on a much smaller scale with more variance to prove your really the best." And no I'm not saying do away with playoffs or anything like that, but I do think we devalue regular seasons here in the States. What does a regular season title get you here? Nothing. Oh wait. It gets you home court/field which really only matters if you get to the final game of that series. Otherwise both teams get the same amount of games. So the better records get you a slightly worse team and one home game if the series makes it that far. To me that seems like its not that valuable. Lets ask Greg Popovich if he thinks the regular season title means anything. He sits his players several games throughout the season because he knows it means nothing. He knows all that actually matters is getting in and being healthy when your in because that is where the title is won.
So that brings me to the NCAA tournament. I promise you (and you can look at my twitter), the first two days of the tourney is my favorite 48 hours of sports all year. I pretty much do nothing all day but watch games and love the excitement, the intensity, and the upsets. But while thinking through this argument on baseball, the tournament has many of the same qualities. NCAA teams play around 30 games and then their season comes down to 1 games playoffs, which is 3.3% Kentucky and UConn played in the national title game last year. No one in their right mind would say those were the two best teams in the country throughout the regular season. They both got hot at the right time, they both faced teams who were tough match-ups for the other team, and they both advanced. Do you think the coaches of the top 10 teams in the country like 6 different 1 game playoffs? I doubt it. They probably don't think about it because its just been part of their world for so long. When Duke loses to a 15 seed that if they played 100 times would beat them 9 or 10, its over. They play 4 games in 4 or 5 days at the highest level in the ACC tournament, they turn around and play a team that may have lost early in their conference tournament, or have had an extra week of rest because their conference doesn't even have a conference tournament. And just like that a team gets hot, a team exploits a match-up, or your team just is a little off for that 2 hour block of time, and its over. Season over in 2 hours after playing for 6 months. And they have to do that 6 different times to win the national championship. I love the tournament and I really don't have a solution to make it fair. Its exciting and absorbing and enthralling and many other adjectives, but it doesn't decide who the best team was that season.