MLB Proposal: Upsets Galore and the #1 Seed
For the entire history of the sport, the baseball postseason has been a benchmark only a few teams could reach. Prior to 2012, only 8 out of the 30 teams would make it each year, ensuring that it was almost impossible for a mediocre team to somehow sneak in. Yet in 2012, the MLB was thrown for a spin with the implementation of the second wild card. All of a sudden, with the postseason pool increasing from 8 to 10 teams, playoff races became more common and the month of September carried more implications.
The second wild card added an extra layer of competition should there ever be one wild card team far and above the rest of the pack. Not to mention, the one game elimination game started the postseason off with a bang. Now, MLB is looking to potentially expand the field once more, from 5 teams in each league to 7 (making 14 total teams eligible in the MLB). Not only will this move lay the groundwork for more potential upsets, but it also adds even more incentive for teams to compete for the number 1 seed in their league.
As far as recent baseball legends go, there is no story more inspiring than Madison Bumgarner's 2014 postseason run. Yet Bumgarner may never have even had a chance to perform at the elite level he did, as San Francisco was the second wild card that year. His heroics proved to be one of the most memorable moments of the decade, and it was only possible thanks to MLB's first expansion of the field.
The 2015 Chicago Cubs are another example of a team benefited by this expansion. With a record of 97-65, the Cubs definitely deserved to be in the postseason; but in a tough NL Central, they finished third, grabbing the second wild card. They would go on to reach the NLCS that year, reinvigorating a Cubs fanbase that had lost hope since Steve Bartman in 2003. Unfortunately, however, many deserving teams still have failed to reach the postseason due to the current limits of 5 teams.
The Tampa Bay Rays, in both 2012 and 2018 finished with 90 wins yet did not earn a spot in the postseason. The 2013 Texas Rangers finished their season with an 8-game win streak (finishing with 91 wins) before losing a winner-take-all game 163 to the also streaking Rays. Good teams have missed opportunities to compete in October, and the proposed expansion would make it ever more likely that this would not happen.
Taking a look at another benefit of the proposal, the #1 seed in each league would carry the new weight of being the only guaranteed team in the division series. It seems to happen quite often that a wild card team can get on a streak out of their elimination game and carry their momentum into the division series. Look no further than this year's Nationals taking down the powerhouse Dodgers. Plus, it also seems to happen too often that division winners coast through the rest of the season once they have clinched. The implementation of the new system, however, would incentivize teams to play hard until the last game of the season, and the expansion of wild card series to three games might leave teams more exhausted heading into a matchup with the #1 seed.
The addition of two more teams would add more excitement as well. Who wouldn't want to see a .500 team all of a sudden storm to a championship series or even possibly a team under .500 go head to head with the league's best? With the new proposition, such a scenario would be possible. In fact, the 2017 season would have given us two such teams with records of 80-82 competing in October. It may be unlikely for these teams to succeed, but their mere presence would make for more thrilling possibilities.
Finally, perhaps the most practical reason the new system should be implemented is that it would help remove the erratic nature of the one game playoff. In baseball, any team is liable to win a game on any given day. If the Orioles were to pull off a win against the Yankees in New York during the regular season, it wouldn't be talked about all around the media. The Wild Card game can simply end up giving a good team a short end of the stick simply because they were in a tough division. The Pittsburgh Pirates, for example, finished 88-74 and 98-64 in 2014 and 2015, respectively, finishing 2nd in their division each of those years. That was good enough to host the wild card game, but they would end up losing both years due to complete game shutouts thrown by Bumgarner and Jake Arrieta of the Cubs. Changing the series to a 3-game contest would provide a little more stability for those good teams who would have the bad fortune of being in a tough division.