A few years ago, I was in a bar and got into an argument with a semi-regular (who I didn’t much care for) about which sport has the best postseason. He was a real #PleaseLikeMySport hockey fan, and I had felt (and still do) that the MLB playoffs had surpassed the NHL playoffs as the most enjoyable. Maybe I was still influenced by the Cubs participating in them from time to time and I’ll feel differently now. Maybe I just wanted to piss off the kind of obtuse hockey fan that I’ve had a distaste for for a long time. Little from Column A, little from Column B...
Sure, the wild-card coin flip game is silly, and should be two-out-of-three at least. But it at least makes winning the division worth something, which only the NFL has at the moment. And yes, divisions themselves may be stupid, but that’s another discussion. As long as we have them, and as long as the teams within them are playing just about the same schedule, then they should only be measured against each other. It’s hardly perfect, but it’s closer than people give it credit for.
As I wrote last night, this will probably be it for the current format. Last year showed owners’ appetite for expanded playoffs, because the networks pay bigger money for more playoff games. They’re going to want more of them. The players did take a stand for this year, knowing that more playoff spots mean less incentive to put out a good team instead of a mediocre one, which means less money for free agents, and then less money trickling down for every player. But how hard can they stand when the CBA negotiations really get ugly? They’ll have to trade it for something. Unless we’re getting a full-year lockout or more, which would probably cause the MLBPA to buckle anyway.
What baseball really should do is cut the regular season and expand not just the amount of teams in the playoffs, but the games. Best of nine or eleven, and play every day. Make playoff baseball look more like regular-season baseball, with respect to how teams can actually deploy their rosters. But I won’t sit on a hot stove waiting for that.
There’ll be plenty of time to discuss that over the hot stove winter. Maybe even into the spring, if the lockout that feels inevitable goes that far.
For now, it’s one last chance to enjoy this type of drama. A first-ever Dodgers-Giants playoff series is in the cards, unless the Cardinals’ Devil Magic takes down the game’s T-rex that is the Dodgers, which might be the only time that Cardinals’ Devil Magic is widely appreciated around baseball.
Another Rays-Yankees dance has a chance, too, full of the narratives of the rich vs. poor that doesn’t really apply, but makes for good copy. Astros-White Sox — a 2005 World Series rematch (when Houston was in NL kids) — has been confirmed for so many weeks now that most of us have forgotten that it’s almost too good of a series to be the Division Series and not the Championship series. The Brewers’ pitching vs. the Braves lineup, even without Ronald Acuna Jr., is sneaky intriguing.
However it breaks down, the MLB playoffs still provide the most bang for the buck. Yeah, the games are too long, but I’ve got not much else to do. And when you get invested, you don’t tend to notice how long the games are. Nothing quite builds the tension like postseason baseball, as you wait for the next pitch that could turn your insides into mush. And it’s every night, at least until the World Series. There aren’t too many foregone conclusions like you get in the early rounds of the NBA. Games don’t end up looking the same as they often do in the NHL. The moments stick out a little more. Betts’ catch and baserunning from last year. The crazy walk-off win for the Rays. All those Astros homers. Daniel Hudson firing his glove into the distance at the last out. Howie Kendrick’s habit of series-winning homers. They roll right up on the video reel in our minds.
The dread can wait. Let’s enjoy all that we have for the next month.