Examining the “Logistical Challenge” of Revamped Playoff Seeding

With last night’s dominant one-hit, 13-strikeout shutout of the San Francisco Giants by Clayton Kershaw, the Los Angeles Dodgers join the St. Louis Cardinals, New York Mets, Chicago Cubs, and Pittsburgh Pirates in the National League half of the postseason bracket. While the five participants are now set in stone, there are still three races left:

  1. The Pirates are currently 3.0 games behind the Cardinals in the NL Central with four games to play. The Cardinals’ magic number to clinch the division is two. After being rained out last night, the two teams are facing each other in a doubleheader today; the Pirates just won the first game, 8-2, but a win by St. Louis in game two would lock up the Central title and clinch the best record in the National League, giving them home-field advantage in the NLDS and NLCS. Both teams finish the season against weak opponents — the Pirates at home against the Cincinnati Reds, and the Cardinals traveling to face the Atlanta Braves — so a sweep for the Pirates today would make for an interesting final weekend.
  2. Assuming the Pirates do not win the Central, they are also battling the Cubs for home-field advantage in the Wild Card game. Pittsburgh currently holds a 3.5-game lead over Chicago in that race, and the Cubs also face a pretty weak schedule the rest of the way: on the road tonight and tomorrow against the Reds, and then a three-game road series with the Milwaukee Brewers to close out the season.
  3. The Dodgers and Mets know they will be playing each other in the NLDS — the only playoff matchup in the Majors in which the two participants are already determined — but the question of where is still up in the air. The Mets currently hold a 1.0-game lead on the Dodgers for home-field advantage, and they also hold the tiebreaker by virtue of their 4-3 record against L.A. this season. The Dodgers finish the season with two more games in San Francisco before heading home to face the San Diego Padres for three games. The Mets have two more games on the road agains the Philadelphia Phillies tonight and tomorrow, and then they travel home to battle the Washington Nationals in the final weekend.

This season, the three best records in the National League belong to the three NL Central teams, but two of them — probably the Pirates and Cubs — will be facing each other in the Wild Card game. That means that the team with either the second- or third-best record in the league will not make it to the Division Series, while the fourth- and fifth-best teams will. This, understandably, has led to some consternation, particularly among fans in Chicago and Pittsburgh and baseball fans without a rooting NL playoff interest. (Not surprisingly, I have not heard any grumbling from fans of the Dodgers or Mets.)

The NL Central dominance has also led to discussion of seeding, because the team that wins the Wild Card game would, if they can beat the Cardinals in the NLDS, start the NLCS on the road against a team with a worse regular-season record. By virtue of winning their divisions, the Mets and Dodgers would have home-field advantage in the second round if they were playing a Wild Card team. So not only does the second-best team in the league have to play a play-in game, they have three road series in their way on the path to the World Series championship.

With that background in place, I present to you a Twitter discussion between ESPN writer Jayson Stark and a couple of his followers:


This doesn’t make any sense to me. According to the MLB Postseason Schedule, there is only one day off between the potential Game 7 of the NLCS and Game 1 of the World Series (October 26). The American League has two days off (October 25 also), and the AL team will have home-field advantage, so we potentially won’t know where the first game of the World Series — scheduled for October 27 — will be played until the night of October 24. And we might not know which team is traveling to that AL city until the night of October 25.

It’s even worse earlier. There is only one day off between the potential Game 5s of the Division Series and Game 1 of the Championship Series (October 15 for the American League, October 16 for the National League). As of right now, Game 1 of the NLCS could be played in St. Louis, New York, or Los Angeles. The only places we know it won’t be are Pittsburgh and Chicago, because they are the Wild Card teams. But it is entirely possible that on the afternoon of October 15 — just two days before the NLCS starts — we still won’t know if the October 17 game will be in St. Louis, New York, or Los Angeles.

Is it really that much more of a “logistical challenge” to add one more possible city — either Pittsburgh or Chicago — to the list of possibilities? Yes, teams must have tentative flights and hotels reserved for each of the possibilities, but is it really that much more of a challenge to make those reservations for four cities than three? Or, more to the point, in a sport that generates billions of dollars in profit each year, would it be that hard to hire one extra travel secretary?

I’m not necessarily advocating for a revamped seeding system that ignores divisional results and focuses only on overall regular season record. I don’t know if that is something I support in general, and I am not nearly objective enough to advocate for that in a season in which my favorite team currently has the fifth-best record among the NL playoff participants. Perhaps there are other reasons, but the only one I ever see cited is the “logistical challenge” arugment. And that argument falls apart with even the tiniest bit of scrutiny, so it’s disappointing if that’s really the main reason for not doing it.

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