Major League Baseball decided to introduce a new wrinkle into the playoffs in 2012. MLB created a second wild card team in hopes of increasing interest as the regular season comes to an end. In theory, this is a fantastic idea that has worked well for the NFL for years.
Unfortunately, MLB commissioner Bud Selig’s implementation of the new second wild card proved to be horrendous. Selig created a one game playoff between the two wild cards. One game playoffs are not unheard of, but they are normally reserved for teams that are tied after 162 games. It only took one game to prove Selig’s folly.
Atlanta Braves versus St. Louis Cardinals debacle
The Atlanta Braves hosted the St. Louis Cardinals in the very first wild card single game eliminator. Atlanta had home field advantage because they finished six games ahead of the St. Louis Cardinals. Six games. To put that into perspective, the Braves’ lead on the Cardinals was was the equivalent of the leads by division winners in the American League combined. (AL East 2, AL Central 3, AL West 1)
The issue is not the inception of a second wild card team, but of the single game playoff. The Cardinals’ 6-3 win that eliminated the Braves was riddled with anomalies. Take a look at the fielding statistics. The Braves had three costly errors in one game. In a series as short as a best of three, this is not the end of the world. Yet in a one game playoff, it kills.
The Atlanta Braves were one of the better fielding teams in baseball in 2012. The three players that committed the costly errors were not the Bad News Bears. Chipper Jones committed an error only once every 9.36 games in 2012. Dan Uggla only averaged one in every 12.66 games played. And how about Andrelton Simmons? In limited action, he only averaged one in every 16.33 games played. The odds of all three having an error in the same game is staggering.
Then there was “the call.” As you can see here, the sixth inning, rally killing, outfield depth, infield fly rule call soured the game with controversy. If the errors did not call the fairness of a one game playoff into question, this dubious call certainly makes the case. While the call certainly affected the Braves chances to win, it was not the sole reason they lost. But it is unacceptable in baseball to put any team’s entire year in jeopardy due to one blown call.
Cardinals win over Nationals prove Selig right and wrong
The St. Louis Cardinals would advance to the NLDS and face the Washington Nationals. The Cardinals proved they belonged in the playoffs by beating the team with best regular season record in baseball (Nationals 98-64). With an unbalanced schedule, the Cardinals proved that Selig had a great idea by adding a second wild card.
Yet again though, the Cardinals are instrumental in showing that a one game playoff is ludicrous. It took the Cardinals’ ninth inning heroics in Game 5 to clinch the series. That’s right, it took five games to decide a best of five series. Major League Baseball already knows how important multi-game series are to determining champions. For the LCS and World Series, MLB increases the best of five to a best of seven series. This is the way game has always been played, and the game should return to it.
What is the solution?
I personally think the second wild card team is a fantastic idea. What needs to be fixed is the one game playoff. Baseball already has a long season, and October baseball can cause weather concerns for teams in the North. So how do you logically fix it?
If I were the commissioner, I would change the wild card playoff from one game to a best of three series. The short series would only need minor adjustments to the schedule, such as starting the season one day earlier and eliminating one off during the year. While a still a short series, this would give both teams a fair shot at going deeper into the postseason.
Christopher Beheler is a Georgia native and lifelong Atlanta Braves fan.