On the eve of the most important game the Cincinnati Reds and Pittsburgh Pirates will have played all year, a debate rages on about the legitimacy of playing a winner-take-all Wild Card game in the first place.
It seems silly for teams to endure spring training and a grinding 162-game schedule only to be rewarded with one chance to win and advance. But that is exactly where all four Wild Card teams find themselves this week after failing to win their division.
Just ask the Atlanta Braves how they felt about being eliminated from last season's playoffs after dropping one game filled with unlucky bounces and controversial calls to the fortuitous St. Louis Cardinals. The photo at the top of this post is a snapshot of the scene that took place at Turner Field after the dubious infield fly rule ruling.
Simply put, one game is not an acceptable sample size to prove one's worth in baseball. This is primarily why baseball has series. So, why does it make sense for us to throw playoff teams in the proverbial ring of battle and let them duke it out in one game, which decides who advances and who goes home?
I can't find a solid answer to that question. And apparently neither can former player and current ESPN baseball analyst Doug Glanville. In Glanville's most recent post, he rips the Wild Card format apart, even going so far as labeling it bad for the sport. Here is an excerpt:
As all the teams scrape and scrap their way to the top of the mountain to make the postseason, only the best make it and the sudden-death wild-card playoff format is the high-altitude gatekeeper near the peak of Mt. Baseball.
One and done.
Yet after 162 games and many more in spring training, after every way to evaluate your opponent and team based on a series, we decide with one game. This makes no sense from a baseball perspective.
Sure, the one-game playoff with two wild-card teams per league keeps teams in it, and maybe it does magic at the ticket offices, but the concept is inconsistent with a game that has been going on for six months with rotations of pitchers and teams playing to win a series of games. One game is the smallest of sample sizes and baseball, of all sports, knows that the smaller the sample size, the bigger the illusion.
I couldn't agree more with Glanville's assessment of the Wild Card format. Sure, there are probably many fans who are intrigued by the idea of essentially manufacturing a game seven scenario, but I have got to believe that the majority of fans are against it.
The solution? Find a way to make the Wild Card round a best-of-three series, instead. I'm all in support of rewarding division winners with a free pass to the NLDS and making the two Wild Card teams essentially earn their way in. However, I'm not a fan of the current one-and-done model, where it is completely possible for a team to earn a trip to the postseason, but not even get a chance to host a game.