Yesterday while on the way down from my home in Central Pennsylvania to Baltimore to watch the Orioles take on the Washington Nationals, I was so lucky as to hear the dulcet tones of Bob Costas’s voice trickle out of the speakers on ESPN Radio. When Costas talks baseball, it is generally an opportunity to hear something insightful about the game of baseball. Yesterday’s conversation on the Mike Lupica Show was no different.
What started out as a run of the mill discussion of the first half of the Major League Baseball season quickly veered into a debate regarding the Wild Card playoff game. While fully in favor of the additional playoff teams, Costas is no fan of the current format. Citing a team like the Pittsburgh Pirates, separated by mere percentage points from the Kansas City Royals for second best record in the league, as a prime example of why more than a one-off, single elimination game is needed, Costas proposed his own idea to make the Wild Card round more fair to all teams involved.
Costas is one of the most intelligent and insightful members of the media, and when he offers an idea, it is guaranteed to be well-formulated and thought out. As an alternative to the current iteration of Wild Card format, Costas proposed a three-game series, played entirely at the home stadium of the team with the better record. Here’s the kicker — the first two games of the series would be played as a day-night doubleheader.
I think it’s genius.
Costas went on to further lay out his reasoning for proposing a day-night doubleheader to start the series. You cannot play an entire three-game series without some compression. The teams waiting in the divisional round cannot be allowed to get rusty. Hence the doubleheader. The possibility of the Wild Card round being over after one day still exists. And, if you think the Wild Card is exciting now, how much more exciting would it be if there were four games to be played on a single day? It would be a near baseball holiday.
There would of course be concerns regarding the effects of a doubleheader on the players. That could be solved by allowing teams to play the Wild Card round with their 40-man roster rather than the 25-man playoff rosters they must currently use. Baseball allows its teams to expand their rosters in September, and many teams in the hunt for a playoff berth benefit from this fact. Bringing the 40-man roster into play for a short playoff series would also further help to skew the series to the more complete team.
Adding an additional game to the Wild Card round, and possibly two should the series go its entire length, also throws some of the advantage back to the team with the best record. To some, having the best overall record feels devalued as Wild Card teams consistently make it to the World Series. By forcing a Wild Card team to start its divisional series matchup with its fourth or fifth starter on the hill, the advantage shifts back to the best team for the first two, crucial games of the series.
Make no mistake, the addition of the second Wild Card team is an unequivocal win for Major League Baseball. Over the past three years, the playoff races and trade deadline have been made infinitely more exciting by keeping more teams involved. From a fan’s perspective, we have been treated to some incredible Wild Card games. Look no further than last year’s game between the Royals and Oakland Athletics if you need proof of how exciting single elimination baseball can be.
That being said, baseball is not a sport meant to be played in single elimination format. The entire season is a long string of series, and the league does not play one-off matchups at any point of its regular season. On a given day, even the Philadelphia Phillies would have a chance to win one game if put in the Wild Card round. Baseball needs to be played out over a series to allow the truest outcome to be determined, and a three-game Wild Card series is a perfect solution. I’ll stop short of declaring a doubleheader as a requirement for making the three-game series work, but it would certainly make things more interesting on all fronts.
While I doubt Commissioner Manfred is sitting with his ear pressed to the radio waiting for Bob Costas to discuss playoff format ideas, this is a good one, and it should not be ignored. A single elimination game is great for fans, but the players and teams that have battled for 162 games deserve better. The solution that Costas has laid out is smart, and touches on many of the issues already facing the expanded playoff format. The second Wild Card team is here to stay, but that does not mean the league should stop tinkering with its playoff format. Here is a great idea that warrants consideration.
This reading from the Gospel according to Bob is adjourned.