Allow me to present the unofficial slogan of Major League Baseball:
Major League Baseball: Someone's going to get screwed
It's not the official slogan. Yet. But give it time. Put it on shirts, put it on hats and make that the loading message before every video on MLB.com. That's been the unofficial slogan in one form or another for over a century.
"The Federal League of Baseball Clubs: Let Us Assure You, It Is Far Too Easy To Get The Go By Around These Parts"
In every baseball setup that has ever existed, that will ever exist, a team is going to get completely and utterly hosed in their quest for a championship after a long, long regular season filled with success.
This comes up now because either the Cubs or the Pirates are going to get hosed. Completely and utterly. Both teams are enjoying riveting, fantastically successful regular seasons, but one of them will go home with a gift basket of 162 successful games and three hours of depressing what-ifs. The Wild Card Game is designed to break your heart.
Because the Cubs and Pirates are so talented, so compelling, people are pondering ways to make the current system more fair. Those people have the ear of the new commissioner, who spoke with FOX Sports:
"Personally, I think it is a mistake to get caught up in results. I understand what you’re saying about Pittsburgh and what has happened to them. I get it. But I think it’s a mistake to focus on an individual team as opposed to the system. Where we need to stay focused -- but may need to revisit -- is on the incentives we’re trying to create. Let’s talk about those."
Commissioner Manfred continued by succinctly explaining the logic behind the Wild Card Game. It's supposed to be something teams should strive for, but nothing that would make them forget about the division title. It strikes that balance almost perfectly.
If the Cubs were guaranteed a Wild Card spot, but also had a chance at the NL Central in their 162nd game, would they use Jake Arrieta for that final game? Or would they save him for a potential Wild Card Game? It's an interesting dilemma, and I'm sure the debate would make people yell at each other on the Internet. Which means the reward of a Wild Card spot is balanced nicely against the reward of winning a division.
The solutions mentioned by Manfred in the article are a best-of-three Wild Card series, but that would make the division winners have too much time off, potentially, and teams aren't in favor of the concept. The solution to those concerns was to have a doubleheader take up two games of the best-of-three, but the last thing you want in a postseason series is for baseball to become an abstraction. Doubleheaders would feature tired hitters and tired relievers -- fine if you need to make up a game and have no choice, but lousy if you're in the postseason. Teams were wise to reject that proposal.
And if you needed a reminder: Someone's going to get screwed. A best-of-three Wild Card series doesn't have the same one-and-done sadness of the current setup, but it's still a brutal and cruel series, short enough to be influenced by the silliest plot twists baseball has to offer. Someone would still get screwed, just slightly less. And if that setup hampered the division winners even slightly, it undoes almost everything the current setup is accomplishing.
It's worth asking just how unfair the system is, too. For argument's sake, let's say the Pirates win the second Wild Card spot. They're in the Wild Card Game for the third straight season, which seems unfair considering how successful they've been. In a way, they're getting screwed.
Except, let's go decade by decade, and see what would have happened in similar situations in the past.
|Year||If the Pirates finished with a great record, but third in their division, they would be …|
|2015||Eligible for a one-game playoff|
You think screwed means that a team could lose a one-game playoff for a potential postseason berth? Teams throughout the long, harsh history of baseball laugh at you. The 1960s Giants averaged 91 wins for an entire decade, with rosters saturated with future Hall of Famers, and made the postseason once. One of the reasons the Cubs have such a long championship drought is because teams like this and this were kept out of the postseason entirely. Baseball historically loves to hose the second- and third-best teams in the league.
There are two ways to avoid quality teams like the Pirates from getting hosed quite like this. The first is to eliminate divisions, which would add thousands of miles to every team's already ridiculous travel schedule, and that's before getting into the history and excitement of divisional races.
The other way would be more postseason berths. Get another three teams from every league into the postseason, allowing for four postseason series in each league. Sure, more than half the teams in baseball would make the postseason, but that's closer to how the NBA and NHL are set up, and you wouldn't get a legitimately good team bounced after a single Wild Card game.
The 69-77 Diamondbacks would have a chance to win the World Series as the No. 8 seed. If you want to know what would feel worse than losing a Wild Card Game, think about losing a best-of-five series against a sub-.500 team that fell up the stairs and into the postseason.
No, that's all very, very gross. Baseball has already reached the maximum number of postseason teams. Divisions aren't going anywhere. And without more postseason teams, and without eliminating divisions entirely, there will always be a chance that an excellent team will meet with an unfortunate, premature demise.
The only consolation is that those teams are far less screwed than they've been throughout baseball history. There will be bitterness after that Wild Card Game, and there should be. But to appropriate a Winston Churchill quote, this is the worst possible postseason setup except for all the other ones.