Baseball Will Adapt to Playoff Expansion

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When the devastation of the 1994 strike and subsequent canceling of the World Series is discussed, the main topics are usually the Expos’ demise; the Yankees’ interrupted return to glory; Matt Williams’s run at Roger Maris; and Tony Gwynn’s shot at hitting .400.

That the Texas Rangers were in first place with a record of 52-62 is rarely mentioned.

So what would’ve happened had those Rangers made the playoffs with a record under .500?

It’s easy to say, “Oh, they’d have gotten swept in the first round by the Yankees.”

But would they have?

The Rangers of 1994 had Kevin Brown and Kenny Rogers in their starting rotation; they had Tom Henke as their closer; and they could bash.

Is it so farfetched to think they could’ve bounced the Yankees?

In addition to the other division leaders—the Yankees and White Sox—there were eight teams in the American League alone with better records than the Rangers when the strike hit.

Eight.

Would it be absurd to think that those Rangers would’ve made the playoffs with a record of 77-85, entered with house money thinking they had nothing to lose and gotten a hot pitcher like Brown—who happened to be unhittable when he was on—and rode their lineup and closer to a title that would’ve been seen as a large black spot on baseball’s system had it happened?

You don’t think it was possible?

It’s happened before.

The 1973 Mets and 1987 Twins were two clubs that shouldn’t have been in the playoffs if they’re judged on their regular season records. The Mets had a hellacious starting rotation and upset the Big Red Machine Cincinnati Reds in the then-best of 5 NLCS; the Twins had won 29 games on the road all season, knocked out the high-powered Tigers in the best of 7 ALCS and won the World Series by winning all of their games at home against the Cardinals.

At the time, home field advantage in the World Series was rotated. If the Twins had won the pennant in an even numbered year, they might not have won the championship.

It was circumstance. Or luck. Or design. Or all of the above.

Drastic changes to the game’s foundational rules have long been lamented as ruinous. The shift in strategy of inside baseball to the reliance on the home run; the outlawing of the spitball; expansion to the West Coast; the lowering of the mound; the draft; divisional play; the DH; free agency; the Wild Card; deep statistical analysis; drug allowance and drug testing—I can go on and on.

But the game survived and thrived.

It adapted.

You can be a purist and point out all the things that might’ve been better had certain new rules not been enacted, but it’s hindsight and one small alteration in the fabric of time sets in motion a million other possibilities.

I have no issue with 10 teams out of 30 having a chance to win a World Series after 162 games. Teams that win their divisions will have a far better chance in doing so than the four Wild Card teams that are going to be playing one game to get to the dance.

One game.

Anything can happen in one game.

Anything.

For every really good team that missed out on the playoffs under the old rules—the 1993 Giants and 1980 Orioles come immediately to mind—there are teams that weren’t very good and made the playoffs because of the Wild Card or that they were in a weak division.

Is it fair? Should they have been left on the outside looking in because they happened to be trapped in a division with a team that wound up with a better record than they did? Should they have been excluded because they won their division with 82 wins?

Maybe they should. But maybe they shouldn’t.

Yes, there will be teams that play for third place, get into the playoffs and eventually win the World Series.

But so what?

With the one game playoff, the Wild Card is no longer as easy an avenue as it once was. A one game playoff is not what any team wants to bank their hopes on, so in essence this new configuration will provide more motivation for a team to win their division.

It’s in human nature to adapt.

And baseball will adapt as well.

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MLB CBA: The Wild Card Play-In And Expanded Replay

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Let’s look at some more of the changes to the game in the new collective bargaining agreement between MLB and the MLB Players Association. You can get an understandable explanation of everything in the deal here on Baseball Nation.

I’ll talk about the draft changes tomorrow. They’re complicated and convoluted and will take some time to sift through.

The Wild Card play-in game.

There will be an added Wild Card team, but it’s not exactly an expansion of the playoffs. It’s a one-game playoff. The three division winners in each league automatically make the playoffs; the next two best records will play one another to join the party.

I’ve gone to great lengths to formulate a better set-up for the leagues. You can read it here, but the gist would be to eliminate the leagues; place the teams in divisions based on locale; and expand the playoffs to 10 teams.

Shifting the Astros to the American League is simplistic and stupid.

The extra Wild Card team isn’t exactly an “extra” team in the playoffs. They’re getting a chance and that’s it.

This will provide incentive for teams to win the division—no one wants to roll the dice in a one-game playoff if they can help it—and will improve late-season competition.

As for the suggestion that one team might wind up playing another team that was double-digits behind them in the standings, it’s not unprecedented and teams that benefit from that accident of circumstance need not apologize.

The 1973 Mets of Tug McGraw, Yogi Berra, Willie Mays and “ya gotta believe” and “you’re not out of it ’til you’re out of it” went to the World Series after winning the war of attrition NL East, then upset the Big Red Machine Reds in the NLCS.

The 1987 Twins with two starting pitchers—Bert Blyleven and Frank Viola—won 85 games, upset the Tigers in the ALCS and won the World Series.

The Marlins have won two World Series, yet have never won a division title.

They’re quirks. They happen. And will happen again and again, expanded Wild Card or not.

Expanded replay.

When does this end?

Now it’s trapped balls and foul lines?

How about base plays?

Balls and strikes?

Pickoff plays?

Checking home runs was enough.

Because there are so many high-profile blown calls and the proliferation of HD replays and over-and-over viewings, the mistakes are more glaring; it’s ignored that the umpires do a tremendous job getting it right most of the time.

To keep game lengths from going out of control, managers have to be given a challenge on those new additions to replay; they get one and that’s it for the game.

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