Here’s the Pitch!
Spring training is here. Daylight saving time, St. Patrick’s Day and tulips are all on deck. Farewell to the winter that never was.
Baseball fans learned last week October will bring more than just fall colors and jack-o’-lanterns. Powers of the game have decided to add extra teams to the post-season. Instead of just one wild card team joining the three divisional winners in the big deal tournament — the way it’s been since 1995 — there will now be two. That’s one extra for both the American and National Leagues, sports fans.
League wild cards will play each other in one game. The winner advances to the division series, and will face the team with the best overall record.
There’s already been some concern that Major League Baseball rushed the whole deal. The 2012 baseball schedule had been designed with the old playoff format in place, and did not count on extra days for extra games. The solution is to eliminate a travel day in the second round of the playoffs. Instead of the team with the best records starting the best-of-five round at home — in past years it’s been two games home, two on the road and the potential fifth game back home — the new deal put the teams with the best records on the road for the first two games. They get the next three at home.
At least it’s still a five-game series. My problem with the new format is that it’s only one game. You play in rain and heat for six months, missing all summer holidays and vacations — just to become of the top five teams in your league. If you’re a wild carder, you have only one game to prove your case and worth for a deep run into October.
Even some players are not crazy about the idea. “One game? That’s kind of crazy,” David Ortiz of the Boston Red Sox told ESPN.com. “You know how many things we’ve got to move around and pack for one game? It’d make more sense for two wild cards to play at least a two-out-of-three series while the other teams take a break for three days because they won their divisions.”
I’m with Dave. But I don’t think baseball is immediately going to buy the concept of a three-game series for the wild card clubs. I’ll bet they make the switch a few years down the road. I remember when the baseball playoffs were first expanded in 1969, the winners of the American and National east and west divisions met in a five-game series. I thought that was kind of short; baseball changed the format to a seven-game scene in 1985.
The way it stands now, the wild card teams will play their one game. The next round, in which two league division victors play each other, along with the wildcard winner and the third division winner (the team with the best record) will both be five-game series. As just mentioned, the league championship series are seven games. So is the World Series, a seven-day affair except for 1903, 1919, 1920 and 1921, when the winner was determined through a best-of-nine playoff.
Nine games is too long, but one game is just too short. I don’t think we’ll see a best-of-three format for the wildcard series for a while — so how about a two-game series? I admit it’s kind of oddball notion, but it would add a different wrinkle to the first round.
Here’s my great idea, and as Butch Cassidy used to say, it’s the latest in long line. The two games are played in the top team’s park. No travel, not in a two-game series. Let’s say the Baltimore Orioles beat the Cleveland Indians in the first game, 6-3. The Indians get a chance to rebound in the second game ... but they’ve got to score a bunch of runs, because runs are the secret to success under my plan. If Cleveland bombs Baltimore, 10-0, they win the wild card round because they would have scored 13 runs to Baltimore’s six. If Cleveland wins the second game 5-4, Baltimore wins the series because the Birds would have scored the most runs — 10 — to Cleveland’s eight.
It really all comes down to who scores the most runs in a two-game series. I know some people might think this is crazy. I just don’t like the idea of one lousy game determining the success or failure of my season. At least with two games, both players and fans get a second shot — a chance for redemption even!
It really should be a three-game debate. And if baseball is looking at the calendar — and doesn’t want to shorten an already long season — why not start the season earlier? I’m talking about the last week of March, and I’m not talking about cold weather places like Detroit, Minnesota and Pittsburgh. Why can’t teams play their first five or six games in Florida or Arizona, at the sites of their spring training complexes? Smaller fields? Yeah, probably. But so many of these early-season games are slugging parties, these home run derbies would be fun to watch.
I’ll bet we’d see fewer early-season injuries in the warmer weather, and it would be a blast for the people who support the spring training games every year. And really — who wants to sit and freeze in Colorado for a Rockies-Cardinals game on April 5?