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Wildcard teams and playoff matchups

Posted by Andy on August 20, 2011

I just wanted to start a little discussion on wildcard teams--specifically the stipulation that the division winner with the best record cannot face the wildcard team in the LDS if that team is from its own division.

My understanding (which might very well be wrong) is that this rule was put into place to prevent two rivals from playing each other in the first round--for example it would prevent the Yankees and Red Sox or the Giants and Dodgers from meeting in the LDS and instead ensure that any such match up would occur instead in the LCS.

It's interesting to note that in many recent years, this stipulation is, in theory, very helpful to the division winner with the best record. Take this season as an example, assuming that the regular season ended today:

In the AL, the two teams with the best records at the moment are the Red Sox and Yankees. It is extremely likely that one of these two teams will win the wild card in the AL. That means that whichever team wins the division will likely play the winner of the AL Central in the ALDS since they cannot play the wild card team from their own division. At the moment, this would mean that the Yankees would get to play the Tigers (66-58) in the ALDS instead of the Red Sox (76-48), which is a big advantage in terms of strength of opponent. It also means that the Red Sox get to play to Rangers (73-53) instead of the Yankees (76-47), which isn't too big of an advantage, especially considering how the Red Sox have crushed the Yankees so far this season.

In the NL, it's a similar story. The Braves have a virtual lock on the NL wild card, meaning they cannot play the Phillies (the team with the best NL record) in the NLDS. As of today, then, the Phillies would get the Diamondbacks (69-56) instead of the Braves (74-52). And the Braves would get the Brewers (74-52) instead of the Phillies (80-43).

It would seem to be the case that this rule favors both the team with the best league record AND the wild card team, since it applies only when they are from the same division. An exception would be when a team runs away with the division and the second-place team still wins the wild card. Imagine, for example, that Team A has the best overall league record at 110-52. Imagine that Team B is from the same division and wins the wild card with a record of 87-75. Imagine that Team C and Team D are the two other division winners, each with a record of 97-65. In this case, Team A would much prefer to play Team B in the LDS, but can't because of the "same division" rule, and Team B (the wild card) gets a benefit from not having to play Team A.

So, then, the wild card team is helped no matter what? That seems kind of weird.

This entry was posted on Saturday, August 20th, 2011 at 2:47 pm and is filed under Uncategorized. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

66 Responses to “Wildcard teams and playoff matchups”

  1. I think that what is favored, Andy, are the playoff teams from the strongest division in each league, which is as it should be.

    It is right and just, I think, that two teams from the same division should be prevented from beating up on each other in the first round of the playoffs. After all, if you qualified as a wild card you competed in a good division.

    The wild card team is likely always going to come from the strongest division (AL and NL East this year), so they should be granted a slight competitive advantage in the post-season.

    Now balanced schedules, 15 teams per league and elimination of inter-league play are completely separate cans of worms that we don't want to re-open here. :-)

  2. It's too easy for the wildcard team to advance. There should be two wildcard teams, who have to play each other in a one or three game matchup before they can advance to face the team with the best record. Then the winner of that game should have to face the division winner with the best record, regardless of whether or not they are from the same division. If the wildcard team has the second best record in the league, they may feel that they have a gripe having to face the team with the best record right away. Well, if they had won their division, they wouldn't have had to worry about it, so no sympathy here.

  3. @2
    Ugueth, with due respect, leave aside what "should be" for a moment and deal with "what is". I think that is the point of Andy's blog.

    Why should the wild card team, from a strong division, not have an easier road to the WS than a team winning a weak division? After all, one could argue that no team from a weak Central or Western division should make the playoffs, based on their regular season record.

    Besides which, it looks like owners are to going to push back the expansion of the post-season to 2014 now, if it happens at all.

  4. John Autin Says:

    Bravo, Andy! I have long harped on the fact that the rule against intradivision LDS matchups is usually a boost to the wild card team.

    What irks me is that, while the format's stated intent was to "preserve the integrity of the division races" -- a team that beats out another for the division title shouldn't have to beat that team again in the first round -- the unintended benefit to the wild card team, which was entirely foreseeable, seem to have been given no weight at all.

    I'm not good enough at probability to know whether it's likely that the wild card comes out of the same division as the best overall record, but if you just think about it for a few minutes, it's easy to see that it won't be a rare occurrence. The wild card is the 2nd-place team with the best record; isn't it intuitively obvious from that very definition that the wild card will often come from the same division as the team with the best record in the league? And in actual practice it has happened more than half the time.

    It's easy enough to "preserve the integrity of the division races" without giving the wild card an unintended boost, and without adding another wild card. Let the wild card always play the team with the best record, regardless of division, but put them at a competitive disadvantage in their first-round series. A couple of possible disadvantages:
    -- No home games for the wild card; or
    -- LDS featuring the wild card is best of 5 for the wild card, but best of 3 for the division winner.

    I think either one of those would also address the problem of meaningless division races like the ones Boston and New York have had in recent years. The chance to avoid traveling, or to get through the 1st round in just 2 games and thus reset your rotation for the next round, would be a strong incentive to pursue the division title even if you're already assured of making the postseason.

  5. Phil Gaskill Says:

    > LDS featuring the wild card is best of 5 for the wild card, but best of 3 for the division winner.

    Not totally sure I understand. Do you mean that the division winner only has to win 2 games, but the wild card has to win 3? Intriguing. So the division winner could theoretically win the series, 2 games to 2?

    Or have I misunderstood?

  6. John Autin Says:

    @5, Phil Gaskill -- I don't think people could stomach a "2-2 series win." I should have clarified that clause as follows:
    "In an LDS involving a wild card, the division winner can advance by series scores of 2-0, 2-1 or 3-2. The wild card can advance by scores of 3-0, 3-1 or 3-2."

  7. @4
    "--the problem of meaningless division races like the ones Boston and New York have had in recent years--"

    JA, you could really have included this year as well. Both are shoo-ins.

    Let me understand your position. You want to attach a little penalty to being the wild card qualifier to make winning the division more appealing?

    But as long as there are imbalanced schedules, as your own post implies, the compensation for competing in the strongest division should be the perk of not having to play your division rival in the first round.

    I agree that in the strongest division there is no premium for winning the division. But who cares? Best record is more important than winning a division.

    If the strength of the three divisions were a random thing and rotated between all three divisions, then, yes, I could go along with making the wild card team play an extra game on the road in the first round.

    However, the Eastern divisions almost always give us the wild card team. AL East is the only division right now, with four teams over 0.500.

  8. The current rule does benefit the wild card but then again nothing was ever put into the current playoff structure to penalize the wild card other than that they stay on the road, which I'm pretty sure isn't that meaningful for good baseball teams. It's not like the NFL where running the table as a wild card is tough because you keep going into tough teams' stadiums for a one-off.

    Not to derail but if the only change MLB makes this season is to introduce the 2nd wild card in order to have the two wild cards mash it out for three games (apparently there's little chance they'd go for a one-game playoff), then I'd be happy. Personally, I think they should play the first game in the 'away' team's city and then play a double-header the next day in the 'home' team's city so that you can have the season go last day of season -> day off -> first WC game -> WC winner decided -> day off -> division series. But none of that will ever happen. They're going to come up with a solution that addresses one issue and introduce another, most likely.

  9. The only reason the wild card teams benefit is due to the fact they usually are much better than at least one other team who only got into the playoffs because of a weak division.

    The Rays and Angels have more wins than Justin Verlander... I mean the Tigers but they play in the easiest division. The Giants barely have the same record as the Cardinals when Carpenter has struggled all year and they've been without Wainwright. I just hope the Diamondbacks keep winning so they won't have a chance to get in again with their pathetic offense.

  10. If things hold up I prefer Sox to play Rangers even on the road,(they never play well in Texas though), Rangers do not have a true ace or 1-2 that can match up with Becket and Lester. Yanks will need to face Verlander twice, which off-sets Sabathia and takes away the Yankees true #1.
    This years Rangers remind me of those mid 90's Indian teams, great offense and five #3's and couldn't get it done.

  11. @9
    Kyle, no desire to see back-to-back WS champions? :-)

    Seriously, why are the Western divisions so weak in both leagues?

  12. John Autin Says:

    Neil @7, re: wild card deserves "...compensation for competing in the strongest division..."

    You're starting from a premise that I would not agree with unless there were more revenue equality. If the Rays, Blue Jays or Orioles win the wild card (someday!), I'd be happy to see them spared from playing either of the Evil Empires in the first round. But if the Yanks and Red Sox both make the playoffs, I have no desire to see the wild card compensated for anything.

    MLB has clearly decided that the wild card should have a disadvantage -- that's why they're supposed to face the team with the best record, and can't have home-field advantage in the first 2 rounds, even if their record is better. Everyone is free to disagree with MLB's philosophy on that, but that's a different discussion than the one that Andy started. And trying to devise a playoff format that also addresses a chronic competitive imbalance in this or that division resulting from revenue differences is a much bigger kettle of fish altogether.

    All I'm saying is that it's inconsistent to have two elements of the playoff format that are designed to hinder the wild card, while an exception to one of those helps the wild card more often than not.

  13. John Autin Says:

    @8, Fireworks, re: your 1st point -- Without pinning down the exact value of home-field advantage, I gather that you do agree that not having that amounts to some degree of hindrance on the wild card. And I presume you would agree that MLB intended that hindrance.

    What, then, is the sense of hindering a wild team with one rule, but helping them with another? Why not just be neutral?

  14. Rick Ankiel went 0-5 with 4 whiffs in a 9 inning game last night. Isn't there a nickname for that feat? I think it was discussed in a thread earlier this week.

  15. Luis Gomez Says:

    @ 14.

    That's the Golden Sombrero, my friend.

  16. It's the wildcard itself, coupled with the absurd unbalanced schedule, which creates the problem. The system is jury-rigged to create inequity in its zeal for more revenue. It also can create an undercurrent of less than full effort as the playoff-bound teams try to game the system to get the match up (they think) they want. If the wildcard faces, in the first round, the team with the best record, then it gets the chance to knock off a team that may have had a far superior regular season, plus a harsher schedule. If it faces the team from its own division, then it gets a second bite at the apple. So, nothing is really fair.
    What I would rather see is that the names of playoff teams get thrown in a hat, with the first round match-up decided by chance. The series with the wildcard would start out three home games for the division leader, then two to the wildcard, then the final two at the division leader (yes, I know, that's bad for revenues, but...). JA's best of five/best of three strikes me as unfair to the two other division winners, who are playing each other.
    But what I would really like to see is, if we must have wildcards, two divisions per league plus the best two records, balanced schedules, and the elimination of inter-league play.

  17. layman J, here.

    @4. "the rule against intradivision LDS matchups is usually a boost to the wild card team."

    Here are the two types of scenarios the current policy can cause:

    101 99 99
    100

    1st round: Strongest: Advantage.
    Second: Advantage.

    2nd round: Both survive: Advantage strongest.

    101 100 100
    99

    1st round: Strongest: Advantage.
    Second: Disadvantage.

    2nd round: Both survive: Advantage strongest.

    If the policy were not in place, wildcard faces strongest in both cases at disadvantage.

    Not sure I understand wildcard advantage in any scenario.

    @4. "The wild card is the 2nd-place team with the best record; isn't it intuitively obvious from that very definition that the wild card will often come from the same division as the team with the best record in the league?"

    It is not. Not by my current understanding. Could you please elaborate for me, John?

    @8. I would be quite interested in your feedback, as well.

    And I would be PERFECTLY pleased, Fireworks, if your playoff format were implemented as soon as possible (next year, hopefully). Please forward your idea to the powers that be.

    Great stuff! Keep it coming.

  18. @16:

    YES!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  19. @17, Jbird -- I'll elaborate on my "intuitively obvious" claim:

    The wild card, by definition, has no worse than the 4th-best record in the league. It might be the 3rd-best, or even the 2nd-best. It cannot be the best record. Now let's try to guess which division the wild card team finished 2nd in.

    The only division winner certain to have a better record than the wild card is the team with the best record in the league. So our guess has to lean that way right off the bat. The only question is how strongly.

    Now let's think about the typical distribution of division-winning records. We've now seen 16 seasons of the 3-division format. I won't post 16 years of records, but I have a strong sense that it's very rare to find all 3 division winners with comparable records. I think that in at least 2 out of 3 years, there's at least 1 division winner per league that's well below the top record.

    If that's true, then we're not really guessing among 3 divisions for the source of the wild card, but closer to 2. So it's more like a coin flip, but with a loaded coin -- because we know that 1 division winner by definition has a better record than the wild card, i.e., the team with the best record in the league.

    And that's why it seems to me better than 50-50 that the wild card will share a division with the best-record team.

  20. Also, Jbird, I'm sorry but I couldn't really follow your scenarios @17. Could you try to lay those out a little more explicitly?

  21. Jbird, to your statement @17, "Not sure I understand wildcard advantage in any scenario."

    Consider the 2004 AL playoff teams:
    -- East winner: Yankees, 101-61.
    -- Central winner: Twins, 92-70.
    -- West winner: Angels, 92-70.
    -- Wild card: Red Sox, 98-64.

    The rule barring intradivision matchups in the 1st round meant that instead of playing the 101-win Yankees, Boston played a team that won 9 few games than the Yanks and 6 fewer than Boston themselves. The rule helped Boston by giving them an opponent measurably inferior to the one they otherwise would have played.

    And, just for fun, if we want to dabble in the Fallacy of the Preordained Outcome ... Boston lost the first 3 games of the ALCS to New York. Had that been a first-round best-of-5, the series would have been over.

    Or how about the 2001 AL playoffs?
    -- East winner: Yankees, 95-65.
    -- Central winner: Cleveland, 91-71.
    -- West winner: Seattle, 116-46.
    -- Wild card: Oakland, 102-60.

    The rule kept Oakland from playing the Mariner juggernaut, and sent them instead to face a team that won 21 fewer games. On paper, at least, that was a pretty big boost to the wild card. (And of course, Oakland darn near swept the Yankees, before Cap'n Clutch took over.)

  22. Braves are a virtual lock?

  23. Frank Clingenpeel Says:

    Now I am REALLY worried...I actually understood all of this.

    And here I was hoping that I was slipping into my senility now, while I am young enough to enjoy it.

  24. Although they are probably out of the wildcard chase, to me the most facinating team in baseball is Tampa Bay. Forget about the playoff races for a minute and think about all the teams with big payrolls that would love to be 12 games above .500 right now! I like the idea of 2 wild card teams having to play a 3 game series all in the city with the team with the best record. For example this year would see the Rays go to NY or Boston for a quick 3 game set that would start on the final Sunday of the season, with the regular season ending on a Saturday instead of Sunday. You would see Boston and NY play like gangbusters to win the division to avoid the 3 game matchup. As far as the rest of the teams losing that final Sunday of the season, I don't think that's a big deal because of football going on anyway and all the rest of the teams have either locked up a spot, or are out of it.

  25. In the National League you would have the Giants or the Cards flying to Atlanta for a 3 game set on Sunday Oct 2nd, and the winner flying to say Milwaukee on Wednesday Oct 5th. I think on average baseball has avoided direct compition with football, but having playoff teams like NY, BOS, SF, or St Louis compete is a winner for baseball.

  26. The thought of all that playoff baseball, and football wrapped together for those 4 days really would be fantasic and reminds me of how delicious an aged sirloin steak is wrapped in bacon cooked no more than medium. 2 great things brought together making each one even more delicious.

  27. i do believe i was discombobulated; organised and presented my calculations poorly. there are six possible outcomes to describe this situation. I shall try again?

    we'll use AL east as the example with ny winning division and bos as wildcard.

    If ny wins with best record and bos 2d best among playoff teams, no first round battle anyway.

    If ny wins with best and bos 3rd best, no first round battle.

    If ny wins with best and bos 4th, first round battle to happen, save for rule of topic today.

    If ny wins with 2d best, and bos 3rd, no first round battle.

    If ny wins with 2d best and bos 4th, no first round battle.

    If ny wins with 3rd best and bos 4th, no first round battle.

    Only in the one scenario is a "natural" matchup altered. Being ny with the best record, and facing teams less likely to win anyway (based on win%), it's kinda nice that boston has to defeat a stronger team than themself to get to the yanks. to the joy of yankees fans, boston is a coin flip to be defeated and if both survive the first round, advantage still ny.

    The flip is for boston, that in the first round of that one scenario, they dont have to play the strongest team. But that's a slim flipside. It's another coin toss that the strongest (ny) will be defeated in the first round, but it's a slimmer coin toss than the one where boston's got to beat a better team to get to the lcs.

    To me, this is total advantage to division winner. Argument? I'm no English major, John. Hope it's more comprensible this time :O)

  28. Speaking of the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, every time I think age has caught up with one Mr. John Damon, he gets hot. He is 8 for 19 in his last 4 games and back on his quest for 3000. He might be playing for the only team that will give him the chance to get to 3000.

  29. is the format currently 1st vs. 4th and 2d vs. 3rd, no intradivision first round?
    if its not, i just wrote a bunch of uneducated garbage and i apologise.
    m'bad.
    its so probably not.

  30. Braves are 8 games up for the NL wildcard...not a mathematical lock but virtually a lock...yes.

  31. @30,
    Sure, Andy, of course.
    It's just ballsy that you would stick a statement like that out there, given the guff you got for your article at the same time last year:
    http://www.baseball-reference.com/blog/archives/7967

    And I don't seem to be able to attach emoticons, but, in this instance, just to be clear, visualize a little yellow smiley face right about.... here.

  32. Johnny Twisto Says:

    [Damon] might be playing for the only team that will give him the chance to get to 3000.

    Don't count on it. They're definitely going to want to upgrade the offense and DH is a prime spot for it. I think they value defense very highly and have not played Damon much in the outfield this season. Damon has a similar profile to players in recent years who have had a very difficult time finding work. If he doesn't finish strong, he may be done.

  33. John Autin Says:

    Jbird, the current LDS format is:
    -- Division winners are seeded 1, 2 and 3, based on record. Wild card is seeded 4, regardless of record.
    -- 1 hosts 4.
    -- 2 hosts 3.
    UNLESS the wild card comes from the same division as #1. In that case:
    -- 1 hosts 3.
    -- 2 hosts 4.

    The rule against a 1-vs.-4 intradivision matchup in the LDS therefore benefits the wild card (on paper) 100% of the time. But it does not always benefit the #1 team; it only benefits them when the wild card is a stronger team than the #3 seed.

  34. John Autin Says:

    For the record -- and not because it matters, but just because I am a stickler for accuracy -- I've never said I was an English major, because I wasn't. Perhaps someone made an inference from something else I said, or from the way I write, but it isn't so. No big deal, though.

  35. Timothy P. Says:

    @32 I don't disagree with anything you say, but remember the Rays get picked apart every off season by free angency. It's hard to predict what they will look like from year to year. I give him one more year with the Rays and then finishing up with the Royals for hit 3000 and a ticket to Cooperstown!!!! Go JD! Hey Twisto did you see my idea for the wildcard? I'm sending it to the commissioner.

  36. Thomas Court Says:

    I know I have stated this before, but I thought I would repeat it since my dad and I were having a laugh about it yesterday:

    Johnny Damon is actively campaigning for the Hall of Fame - it is an election after all. He has been well liked in each city he has played in. His campaign has made stops in:

    Kansas City
    Oakland
    Boston
    New York
    Detroit
    and Tampa Bay

    He is attempting to "stuff the ballot box" by getting to 3000 hits. Part of me thinks that his agent doubles as his campaign manager: "Johnny, you are losing ground in the southwest... Would you consider signing with the Diamondbacks for a season?"

  37. Timothy P. Says:

    @36 I've mentioned it before Thomas that JD lost a fairly large amount of cash in a Ponzi scheme run by Allen Stanford. I think he's motivated by he and his beautiful wife's future security. I'm not an expert on the autograph and card show circuit, but it is my understanding that HoF'ers get substantially more money for that sort of thing.

  38. Thank you, John. So, to restate in different words, even if you have the second best record in the league, if you are the wildcard, your seed is fourth and the rule of topic here is applied as necessary.

    I got it?

    I have a funny feeling y'all're gonna teach me a lot!

    One of our friends in here was making a funny because you write very well, John :O)

  39. This makes me think that perhaps the playoff match-ups should be solely based on record without regard to who is the wild card. I know some traditional baseball people think that it's good this way because then winning the division is rewarded, but of course there's nothing fair about that.

  40. Thomas Court Says:

    Damon has made over 105 million dollars playing baseball. Why would he need to invest with someone for? Greg Maddux was mixed up in the same deal, and he made over 150 million. Geez...

  41. Timothy P. Says:

    That's only about $50M after taxes :-) But if at the time he had say $5M invested with Stanford, that's one tenth of his lifetime earnings after taxes. $5 Million is a lot for anybody.

  42. At season's end, if a team wins the division leader, they have, of course, satisfied the surest-fire means of obtaining entry into the playoffs.
    If a team has not won its division, it enters into a pool of the 3 divisions' non-leaders. No divisional bias with regard to selecting the wildcard. The best among them makes the playoffs. That is how wild card works, correct? Pretty solid.

    @39. Bip, imo, you are dead on. I reiterate the notion that there should be no advantage or disadvantage to any playoff team, whether division leader or wild card. No divisional bias with regard to matchups or not matching up. The wild card team was anywhere from the second to the fourth best team in the league and should be treated as equal, an elite playoff-qualifying team. Is not the goal of the regular season simply to win enough games to qualify for the playoffs. If you do not do that, your season ends. If you do qualify, whether first or fourth or in between, you are simply grateful to be alive and competing for the world championship in october.

    I rather enjoy watching the highest level of competitive baseball possible, and that implies a fair matchup. I'm not looking to see advantages. Just good, hard-nosed baseball. Remember the Aaron Boone game. Best game EVER. And I have not had a favorite team since the strike. I love 'em all. Don't be shy :O)

    In one potential parallel dimension, only the four best records in the league making the playoffs without regard to division. It's a strange dimension, but, really, that's what a wildcard team is.

    Anyway, sorry for any ramble or repetition, but not much else. Hope I've contributed something. Love this place.

  43. Voomo, my personal growth can be actively seen in the contrast between last year's phrasing ("done") and this year's ("virtual"). :)

  44. Good stuff Jbird. I (we all?) have a tendency to think of extreme examples when considering rules...for example I focused on this year when both wild card teams are currently the second-best team in their league (by record, at least) but there have been other seasons when the wildcard winner was a distant 4th when none of the three divisions were close. Over a long period of time it probably averages out and it's shortsighted to cite a few examples one way or the other.

  45. John Autin Says:

    Many have argued for seeding the playoff teams strictly on their record, with no wild card "penalty." I can see fairness in that, when considering it solely in that narrow context.

    But isn't it inconsistent with how they settle the larger question of who makes the playoffs in the first place? In other words, if there's no "taint" in being the wild card -- if winning a division shouldn't really matter -- then why have divisions at all? Why not just put the 4 best records in the playoffs?

    It just seems weird to me to treat the playoff teams based on their records after they're in the tourney, yet be completely indifferent to the unfairness of excluding one of the top 4 records from the tourney altogether, as happened to the 2009 Rangers, the '08 Yanks and Mets, the '07 Padres, the '05 Phillies, the '03 Mariners, etc.

  46. Instances in the Division Series era where the four best records in the league were, for one reason or another, not the four teams in the playoffs.

    '96 NL East 2d place Expos (88-74 .543) equal Central winner St. Louis' record.

    '97 NL East 2d place Mets (88-74 .543) and West 3rd place Dodgers both best Central winner Houston's (84-78 .519) record. Houston has the league's 6th best record and bows out in the LDS to Atlanta, being swept in three.

    '98 AL East 3rd plac Blue Jays (88-74 .543) equal West winner Texas' record.

    '00 AL East 2d place Indians (90-72 .556) best East winner New York's (87-74 .540) record. New York has the 5th best record in the league and wins the World Series!

    '01 NL West 2d place Giants (90-72 .556) best and Central 3rd place Cubs (88-74 .543) equal East winner Atlanta's record. Atlanta has the 5th (tie) best record in the league and loses in the LCS to eventual WS winner Arizona (4-1).

    '03 AL West 2d place Mariners (93-69 .574) best Central winner Minnesota's (90-72 .556) record. Minnesota has the 5th best record in the league and loses in the LDS to the Yankees (3-1).

    '05 NL East 2d place Phillies (88-74 .543) , East 3rd place (tie) Marlins (83-79 .512), and East 3rd place (tie) Mets all best San Diego's (82-80 .506) record. San Diego has the 7th best record in the league and is swept by St. Louis in the LDS.

    '06 NL East 2d place Phillies (85-77 .525) best St. Louis' (83-78 .516) record. St. Louis has the 5th best record in the league and wins the World Series!

    '07 NL West 3rd place Padres (89-74 .546) and East 2d place Mets (88-74 .543) both best Central winner Chicago's (85-77 .525) record. Chicago has the 6th best record in the league and is swept in the LDS by Arizona.

    '08 NL East 2d place Mets(89-73 .549), Central 3rd place Astros (86-75 .534), Central 4th place Cardinals (86-76 .531), and East 3rd place Marlins (84-77 .522) all best West winner L.A.'s (84-78 .519) record. L.A. has the 8th best record in the league and loses the LCS (4-1) to eventual WS winner Philadelphia.

    '08 AL East 3rd place Yankees (89-73 .549) best Central winner Chicago's (89-74 .546) record. Chicago has the 5th best record in the league and loses to the Rays in the LDS (3-1).

    '09 AL East 2d place Rangers (87-75 .537) best Central winner Minnesota's (87-76 .534) record. Minnesota has the 5th best record in the league and is swept by New York in the LDS.

    Thoughts. Feedback. Enjoy! :O)

  47. of these teams, the phils got the biggest screw thus far in '05 with a record that was 6 games better than playoff bound san diego.

  48. I don't agree with the current rules surrounding the mid summer exhibition game, either. With representatives from every team, including small market ones without a prayer of making playoffs, allowing this game to have anything to do with postseason advantages is a travesty. First off, we have disqualified viable resources from participating in this (Very Important, given the consequences of winning and losing) event. I think I've seen and/or heard of starting pitchers working some emergency relief on little or no rest when the game was deemed important enough. Second, there is a priority to "get guys in the game" over winning. Halladay pitches two perfect innings, (against ALL STARS no less, HELLO! with post-season home field advantage on the line, and Roy's gotta like his odds of getting to appreciate that advantage, should his league win.) and they pull him.

    Ae we playing for home field or for fun? Which is it?

    I like the old way better. Home field back and forth every year. All star game for the fans. For the love, fun, and exhibition of it all.

  49. I don't know of any sport where the team with the best record doesn't face the team with the worst record of qualifying teams in a structured playoff. Admittedly I've ignored football and basketball for many years so perhaps they've juggled tournaments in some way as to change that. Having said that there are a couple of points to make.

    1) If the season ended today the Phillies would get the D'Backs - advantage Phillies.The Braves would get the Brewers who have exactly the same record as the Braves. Don't see much of a Wildcard bias in that.

    2) If I were a cynic I'd suggest that MLB and Fox don't want the Red Sox and Yankees to play in the NLDS because it means they get more play out of there big money makers; Boston plays whoever, Yankees play whoever before they play each other. In a much smaller way Phillies and Braves (Phillies and Mets would be bigger for Fox/MLB). Everything Bud $elig does is based on maximizing income first and improving the game second. An extra wild card team is simply an example of that. Fox gets poor ratings for post season games that are not Yankees or Red Sox so they pressure Bud and owners to do add a new team. After 162 game season the last thing players need is another series delaying the WS and owners don't want to shorten the season and cut their gate money. That has to be sorted out before another playoff series. A one game playoff is something Fox would love because it generates non-fan viewers looking for the tension of sudden death.That's IF I was a cynic of course :-)
    I never thought a sudden death playoff was good for the game then last week I heard Jim Bowden come out in support it. Now I am SURE it's not good for the game.
    ;-)

  50. @ John Autin

    Actually, yes, I think that they intended to hinder the wild card with the absence of home-field advantage regardless of record (though I don't really think it matters all that much when a team is playing well and good top-to-bottom), but that the second thing--not facing your division-mate--was something they didn't look at too much other than the complaints about not getting beat out in the first round by someone you beat out all season. I don't even think they too much paid attention to the revenue potential of classic rivalries like Yanks-Sox/Cubs-Cards/Giants-Dodgers in the LCS.

    I look forward to seeing what they do with the second wild card. I'm pretty sure any scenario will be better than what we have now if you are the sort of person that values division titles.

    Personally, my wish list is to expand to 32 teams, a nice beautiful number divisible by 16, 8, and 4, allowing for 4 four-team divisions per league or 2 eight-team divisions, both of which lend themselves to having an schedule that can be perfectly balanced over a period of x years. No matter which division scheme you had, I'd have six postseason teams per league, but four of them would play each other immediately in a three-game set while the two best teams would take a breather, and then you'd proceed directly to the LCS. That way you reward the best teams for baseball's super-long season and still have the drama associated with multiple teams vying for things, and don't have a league where precious few fanbases have any interest in their team's season come the leaves changing.

    Adding a second wild card now would certainly address the lack of penalty (or benefit, as discussed here) of not winning your division, but it would do nothing to address the lack of a reward for the very best team unless MLB went radical and had the two wild cards play the two weakest division winners as I described in the above paragraph. Of course, they'd never do anything that radical.

    Please expand to 32 teams. Please. Vancouver/the Carolinas/Kentucky/Tennessee/Katrinaville.

  51. John Autin Says:

    Some unordered thoughts on expanding the playoff teams:

    -- Beware of unintended consequences. Someone recently pointed out (Jayson Stark?) that if there had been a 2nd wild card during the 16 years of the 3-division era to date, several teams at or close to .500 would have made the tourney. Also, no matter what has been done in the past to promote "the drama associated with multiple teams vying for things" -- first the 2-division split, then 3 divisions plus a wild card -- there have often been years with very little of that drama in the final weeks. If we want to promote that drama, let's assign a team of probability experts to study the issue scientifically and come up with a plan or two. I think we ordinary folks often overreact to recent events.

    -- I don't like the idea of giving 2 teams a 1st-round bye, although I'm unable to express a principle behind stance.

  52. one take on an expansion concept:

    Expand to 32, 16 in each league, realign divisions to two per league, 8 per division.

    Division leaders make playoffs, naturally. But no x's or z's (or was it y's) just yet.

    Best 6 of remaining 14 teams in each league also make playoffs due to "wildcard" selection process as we know it today.

    If all 6 wildcards come from one division (rare but feasible), the worst team is exchanged for the second best team in the division from which only the leader made the playoffs.

    Insures that at least two teams from each division are represented and up to 6 teams from a division can be represented.

    Now, since the usual x's or y's were not applied the same as in the olden days, the two best teams in the league, period, regardless of division, get the two byes.

    Anyone dig?

  53. Im_A_Shark7 Says:

    I don't dig at all.

  54. Sorry, Jbird, but I don't think I'll ever be ready to see half the teams make the playoffs.

  55. @52, Jbird, I have to say "nah". Kind of turns the regular season into a sort of fantasy baseball league, where the only thing you care about are the stats.

  56. i see. so say the people; it shall be so. but some degree of reform is due, no?

  57. not sure how the 8 team playoff notion turns me into a person "where the only thing you care about are the stats." ouch. definite exception taken. i've never actually played fantasy baseball. have no clue what you do. change your avatars? (had to ask m'lady what those things were actually called) i was just running one potential outcome through the chute a little. first line of the post was 'one take on...'

    I Love the game. like the stats, too. a lot. but when i go to, or even watch on tv, for that matter, a game, i dont bring pencils or laptops. Nothin', dog. i just love watchin the game. its really that simple for me. thanks for your comment.

  58. Mike,

    Your bottom line angle of 8 teams being too many is totally right. Your comment led me to introspection and this realisation. Upon review, six are plenty. Perhaps, even, too many. I wouldn't personally feel so, myself, but some of the old school guys in the back would probably like to see a return to how it was in the good 'ol days when the american league winner would play the national league winner in The post-season World Series for all the marbles, too. I like those guys.

    Are there 8 playoff teams per league in football?
    That was the loose base model I used and custom-modified.
    Maybe the fantasy football prompted the fantasy baseball line.
    But, again, i dont have a clue what it means.

    I enjoy listening to games on the radio. Stops me dead in my tracks every time i hear it. I should go out of my way to do it more often.

    I took offense to some perceived "inorganic" baseball fan label.
    I hope that there was none intended or that I can come to understand what you're getting at a little better. Also, that none has been given.

    I've been pretty awkward communicatively most of my life. Got a little add or something, but who doesn't. Otherwise we'd be homeboys in real life instead e-talking e-friends.

    "I'm no angel, but I'm also not worthless."

    Hope you hang out, Mike. This is as real as it gets :O)

  59. 58@Jbird-no offense intended or taken. 162 games over six months is a lot of games, and, I'm kind of a purist. Letting half the teams into the playoffs seems to render a lot of that moot. A lot of people (rightfully) gripe about the power of the Red Sox, Yankees, and Phillies. That type of playoff system virtually guarantees that they will make it in, while at the same time rendering their accomplishments as having little more value than bragging rights. With 37 games to go, the Phillies have a 20 game lead over the 8th place team, and the Yankees and Boston have about 14 game leads over the AL 8th place team. So, if you were managing those three teams, how much do you rest your regulars, what do you do with your starting rotation, when the rosters expand in september do you have mostly your AAA team out there on any given night?

  60. Nash Bruce Says:

    @11 Neil: It is because of the Coriolis Force. The teams on the left (coast) have a more difficult time of it!!!

  61. @ John Autin

    My plan is solid. Think about it.

  62. your points are so enlighteningly valid, i cant believe i ever posited the original idea in the first. very short-sighted. i got 20/270 in one eye and 20/330 in the other. Four eyes and more are better than two, 'specially if the two are mine. thanks, mike. all the way through.

    @50. in your plan, the two leaders go straight to LCS and 4 wildcards fight for the two remain LCS berths. would 2 8-team divisions handle that better than 4 4's?

    and i'd still say no divisional bias among the wildcards, both in selection and matchups.

    will 6 expansion water down the end of the regular season?

  63. @60
    Nash, darn, forgot about the Coriolis effect. :-)

  64. Jbird the reason 2-8 is preferable to 4-4 is that each of the byes would be the division winners. Hence, every other team would be teams that didn't win but had better records than other teams, and you diminish the chance that a division winner wasn't one of the top X teams in the league from what would probably be occasional to almost impossible.

    Plus, if you do two 8-team divisions, you don't even need to do it the way I said it. You could totally just have two wild cards based solely on record (not one for each division), similar to the current system with LDS->LCS->WS. Though that does not at all address the impetus for Andy's post.

    Of course you could have four postseason teams per league with the two wildcards immediately playing each other in a one-game series, followed by a three-game series by the winner against the weaker division winner, followed by the winner of that playing the LCS (I said proceed directly to the LCS in my plan above but I meant LDS), and while in its own way it kinda addresses every argument (penalizing non-division winners, rewarding the very best team in a league), it's not as smooth as any of the other postseason structures that we've had. Also, it doesn't generate much revenue so the owners would never go for anything like that.

    Of course, you could just do what is being considered for the current league membership (five teams and a wild-card round), tweak it a little and actually address almost everything:

    Two 8-team divisions per league, five postseason teams per league--the two division winners and three wild cards. The two weakest wild cards (all wild cards are by record, of course--no division is guaranteed to field a wild card), play each other in a three-game set. The winner (almost always with a sup-optimal starting rotation for the upcoming series) then faces the best team in the league by record while the other, best wild card, faces the weaker division winner. Further, you could give all the home games in the wild-card set to the team with the better record AND make the LDS round a 5-2 home-away (or at least do that for the strongest wild card). Or even 6-1, though the owners wouldn't do that. That they could just SPLIT the gate better for those series will never occur to them. Anyway, in this system every single postseason position has value and importance and requires fighting for it all the way to the end. No one would fail to fight for the best record so they could benefit from being able to set their rotation against a team that probably can't, no one would ever abdicate the division for any reason knowing that even if they aren't going to be in the wild-card round they aren't going to get much home cooking, no one would ever give up fighting to be the better of the two wild cards that have to be in the wild card round knowing they aren't going ANY home cooking. I'ma pat myself on the back now.

    But maybe there are better ideas out there.

    P.S. JA do you like the last better than what I said earlier? You do. I know you do. Give me some love, baby.

  65. sounds great. hierarchical urgency is important to ensure a fight to the bitter end. thumbs, man. thanks for the time.

  66. The wild card concept had its roots in the NFL. The owners probably thought it made sense, possibly to avoid embarrassment in losing trying to prove itself a 3rd time, to not have to play a division winner in round 1 play the WC, when it's likely the division winner went 2-0 over the team during the regular season. Since it was possible that qualifiers from different divisions may not have faced each other during the season, they probably adopted the WC vs same division winner concept of avoiding each other in round 1.