The Ups and Downs of the MLB Playoffs

September 30, 2008

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Karol Kudyba

The Ups and Downs of the MLB Playoffs

With the MLB playoffs set to begin, there is a subtle difference in the air compared to start of any other postseason. In the NHL, fans can potentially look forward to a great Canadians/Bruins series that is not only exciting, but has a historical kick to it. Likewise basketball fans always have the chance to see if the Suns can finally get past the Spurs and football fans love seeing the rivalry of the Eagles Vs the City of Philadelphia when the Eagles so much as get tackled for a loss.


The MLB playoffs reward the team that did the best over the long baseball season and consistently wins over a long period of time. Even a team that ‘backs in’ had to have been a dominant team in their division for 5+ months and being that good for half a calendar year unless their division was a mess. And although there may be no wildly anticipated matchup that involves throwing batteries, there is logic behind the current system. You have to earn your way to get a chance at the multiple-flags-on-a-block-of-wood trophy and it doesn’t come easy.


But because of the long season combined with the lack of playoff teams, there are no playoff rivalries in baseball. The system simply doesn’t allow it.


If all teams were equal, the odds of any team making the playoffs for each major sports league from the outset are: 



# of teams

# of playoff teams

%  of teams in the Playoffs




0.267  (.286 in AL, .25 in NL)















In the current format, it is simply too hard for any one team to consistently make the playoffs let alone for two, and even then they need the chips to fall in the right places for them to face each other. Baseball has no Suns/Spurs, Lakers/Celtics (although Bill Simmons completely dissected that rivalry in a recent column) Oilers/Stars, Red Wings/Avalanche or Patriots/Colts. With up to twice as many teams making the playoffs in other leagues, the odds of having the same teams play each other repeatedly over the years increases the chances of rivalries forming and huge emotional battles taking place.


While rivalries in baseball do exist in baseball, it’s different. Any rivalry that occurs in playoffs is not due to any occurrence last October, but is rather an extension of tensions during the regular season (any one who counters with “the Red Sox and Angels are a rivalry” is wrong. Getting beaten doesn’t make it a rivalry, physical confrontations do) or more likely because the two cities are close to one another.


But here’s the strange thing. Not only are there no real rivalries in playoff baseball, it’s also a good thing that there aren’t.


Let’s say that the Red Sox and the Angels make the playoffs consistently and play each other for four straight years. That means that in those four years, only two other teams will make the playoffs each year in that span. And if you live in a city that isn’t Boston or Los Angeles, how would you love to go into a season knowing that at best, there is only a 17% chance to make the playoffs and May hasn’t even started.


The low amount of teams that make the playoffs means that rivalries would have the adverse effect of destroying playoff diversity. If there were two separate NL playoff rivalries currently running, that leaves twelve teams that aren’t making the playoffs and would kill any excitement at the beginning of the season.


Personally I would love to see baseball have an NFL type postseason. Add two extra wildcard teams and have two teams get a bye. The reward for being a top team gets you a chance to rest your starters for the upcoming series and your position players get to spend a week in whirlpool.


While having more teams would take away from the illustriousness of making it to the Fall Classic, so what? Having a low ranked team make it all the way by destroying the top teams in the league is how legends are born. Imagine having the Masters with only 24 participants or March Madness starting with 16 teams. The 12-5 upset is an annual tradition that delights all but one team’s fans every year.


MLB`s playoff system is preventing any team from coming out of nowhere and playing the role of a spoiler. Having team teams make the playoffs that were injury ravaged during the year or put it all together late in the season makes for an exciting season. Look at the epic Golden State Warriors versus the Dallas Mavericks two years ago. That would have never happened in baseball. While I am looking forward to the upcoming second season, it’s not nearly as exciting knowing that my team already doesn’t have a realistic chance of making it next year.

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