MLB’s playoff system is great, upsets and all


When it comes to baseball, Denver Post deputy sports editor Matt Schubert and I rarely agree on anything. Certainly not regarding known steroid users being enshrined in the Hall of Fame, and not even selecting the majors’ best ballparks.

So imagine my surprise when I found myself agreeing with Mr. Schubert about Major League Baseball’s new 12-team playoff format. In a nutshell, Mr. Schubert found it troubling that the 111-win Dodgers, who put together one of the best regular seasons in major-league history, were ousted by the 89-win Padres in the five-game NLDS.

Also, consider that the 87-win Phillies, who barely snuck in as a wild-card team, are now in the NLCS against the Padres while the 101-win Mets and Braves are on vacation.

But here’s the thing: I’ve changed my mind. Once again, Mr. Schubert and I disagree. It feels good.

I’ve thought a lot about MLB’s playoff system and I’ve read a lot of opinions about it. The bottom line, as spoken so simply by Al Davis, the original, evil, Darth Raider: “Just win, baby!”

There were shock, tears and blame in Los Angeles when the Dodgers choked in the postseason, again. It didn’t seem right, some said, that the Dodgers were 14-5 against the Padres in the regular season but then saw their season end when the Padres outplayed them and won the NLDS, 3-1.

En route to their NL East title, the Braves beat the Phillies five out of seven times in September but then lost three of four to Philadelphia in the playoffs.

But Atlanta manager Brian Snitker had no complaints and there were no sour grapes.

“The division series has been five games for a long time, as far as I know,” he told reporters. “You know what? I think the system’s fine.”

The old-school thinking is that there should be a just reward for grinding out the 162-game schedule and winning a division title. But baseball is cruel. To quote former commissioner A. Bartlett Giamatti, “Baseball is designed to break your heart.”

There’s also an argument making the rounds that the layoff for the division winners like the Dodgers and Braves leaves them stale while the wild-card winners stay hot. Dodgers star outfielder Mookie Betts didn’t buy into the theory.

“I mean, if you want to use it for an excuse, then you can,” Betts told The Athletic. ‘But it’s definitely an excuse … Nobody cares. Nobody really cares at the end of the day.”

And, at the end of the day, baseball is entertainment, played by highly-paid athletes. Stars should shine on the biggest stage. Sometimes they do, and sometimes they don’t. Just ask Nolan Arenado.

Failing in the postseason doesn’t diminish what players accomplished over 162 games, but it does give us new, often unexpected stars.

If postseason baseball in October has a touch of March Madness to it, so much the better. Baseball is a sport in need of excitement and a spark. Upsets by teams with fan bases starved for success — the Padres are the prime example — are good things.

Washington Post columnist Barry Svrluga recently wrote a compelling column entitled, “The MLB playoffs are broken? No, the MLB playoffs are beautiful.” Svrluga took note of the often “predetermined” nature of the NBA playoffs.

“The NBA playoffs are ‘fair,’ right?” he wrote. “All four rounds are seven games, and the No. 1 seed, which has proved its superiority over 82 games, has advantages in both home court and talent over the eighth-seeded also-rans.

“Since the playoffs expanded to 16 teams in 1983-84, just five top seeds have fallen in the first round — and some of those upsets arrived when the opening round was still best-of-five. More than that: Just five No. 7 seeds have beaten No. 2 seeds.

“That’s fair? That’s dull. Why have so many teams in the playoffs if only half of them have a shot at winning?”

So, as you see, Mr. Schubert, we are at odds, once again. And no, I did not vote for Barry Bonds on my Hall of Fame ballot. And yes, Pittsburgh’s PNC Park is the best ballpark in the majors.


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