The San Francisco Giants are the first team to clinch a playoff spot this year, and congratulations to them for that, especially given that it’s a rare case in sports when a team can do something like this and really play the “nobody believed in us” card.
It was supposed to be the Dodgers running roughshod over the National League West this year, with the Padres maybe providing a challenge. But here are the Giants, 94-50, three games up on Los Angeles in the loss column as they continue chasing a first division title since 2012, with San Diego flailing through the second half of the season and trying to wriggle into the second wild-card spot.
The reward for this stunning season? The team with the best record in baseball is staring down a playoff matchup against the team with the second-best record in baseball, their ancient rivals in blue.
If the season ended right now, the Dodgers, at 92-53, would be home in the wild-card game to face the Reds, who are currently half a game ahead of the Padres and Cardinals in the scramble for the last playoff spot. The Brewers, having a great season in their own right and soon to clinch the Central, would face 76-66 Atlanta.
Not to slight Atlanta, which has gone 32-21 since the All-Star break and surely can be dangerous in a short series, but nobody in their right mind would pass up the chance to face them in favor of a series against a Dodgers team with a 2.94 team ERA and the most runs scored in the National League. Oh, they’ve got to throw Max Scherzer in a wild-card game? Well, here’s Walker Buehler, Clayton Kershaw, Julio Urias, and then Scherzer again in a best-of-five series. Good luck!
This is not a new issue, just one that Major League Baseball hasn’t seen fit to address. In 2015, the Cardinals won 100 games, while the teams with the next-best records in the majors, the Pirates and Cubs, squared off in the wild card game. While the 92-win Dodgers got to face the worst team in the bracket, the 90-72 Mets, the wild-card format spit out a 97-win Cubs team as the opponent for the team with the best record.
That year’s National League playoffs wound up with the team with a worse record winning every matchup. The Mets beat the Dodgers, the Cubs beat the Pirates and then the Cardinals, and then New York swept Chicago. None of it was that outlandish, as the teams in the NL playoffs that year all finished within 10 games of each other, but it’s still rankling that the No. 1 seed got the best available team as its first-round opponent.
Now, maybe it works out this time for the Giants, and the Dodgers lose the wild-card game to a team 15-20 games worse. Maybe the Giants don’t even hang on to win the West, and then this becomes the Dodgers’ problem, with their prize for storming to the division title being a matchup with the next-best team in the game, one that’s beaten them 10 times in 19 games this year.
A Giants-Dodgers series would be great to see. They’ve been the two best teams in the league this year. But matchups between the two best teams in a league should happen in a championship series, not in a best-of-five.
We’ve seen this before, and it should’ve been fixed before now. The wild card being only one game is meant to incentivize winning a division. The payoff for being the best team in the league should be something better than immediately facing the second-best team in the league.