Two sides of the One-Game Wild Card Playoff
In the MLB offseason, it was decided that a there would be a one-game playoff between the two leading teams in the wild card race in both leagues.
This came after two of the most dynamic collapses last year by the Boston Red Sox and the Atlanta Braves, which allowed the Tampa Bay Rays and the St. Louis Cardinals to win the final spots in the postseason.
The Red Sox blew a 9-game lead, and the Braves gave up an 8.5-game lead, giving way to an exciting run for the Cardinals, who won their 11th World Series Championship in 2011. Fans blew up social networking sites with the hashtag #11in11.
This year the Braves have a 6-game lead in the National League before the last game of the regular season. The second place for the NL wildcard was clinched by the Cardinals.
Many fans are excited about what they were denied last year when the Cardinals were able to inch ahead with a win on the last game of the regular season: a one-game playoff.
But this year, the Braves have proven their superiority over the Cardinals. Their 94 wins ties the Braves with the San Francisco Giants, who clenched the NL West division title.
The fact is that the Braves had to play against the Washington Nationals, who made mince meat of their competition with the best record in baseball this year.
The American League is much stickier, to say the least. As of Wednesday afternoon, there were many options of how the run to clench a spot in the post season could turn out.
The Oakland Athletics won the AL West, beating out the Texas Rangers in front of a home crowd. However, the race for the AL East is much closer. The New York Yankees are only one game ahead of the Baltimore Orioles.
The Yankees and the Orioles could end up tied, in which case, they would have to have a one-game playoff for the division title and the loser would play the one-game playoff for the wild card the very next night.
Fans will get to see the Braves and the Cardinals give their all in a one-game playoff for the NL Wild Card and the Rangers play either the Orioles or the Yankees for the AL Wild Card, but at what cost?
The winner of the NL wild card playoff will get one day of rest before going into a five-game series against the Cincinnati Reds or the Nationals — depending on who wins and which division because two teams from the same division can’t play each other in the first round of the postseason.
Making the postseason is important — not only for the players but for the fan base, so one would presume that a one-game playoff will be high intensity with both teams using their best pitchers.
This puts the wild card team at a stiff disadvantage for the division series against the best team in their respective league.
Pitchers typically sit out at least four days, so working under the presumption that a team would use its best pitcher in the one-game playoff, he would be out until the third game of the divisional series.
Though a team can still win after getting behind in the count, it makes it much more difficult to come from behind to win.
The idea is great for fans of the Cardinals, who can use the hashtag #12in12 — and will until the Cardinals are no longer in the postseason. Without this one-game wild card playoff, there would be no hope for the Cardinals to be in the postseason.
It all comes down to this: does the excitement of a one-game, winner-take-all playoff balance out with the disadvantage of pitchers? Does it undermine teams like the Braves, who worked for the 6-game lead?
One last thing to ponder is this: Is a one-game, winner-take-all an accurate portrayal of the superior team? Baseball has always been played in series, with the exception of special cases like divisional ties, until this year. Is it a good idea to break with tradition?
Kristen Coppola is the sports editor for The Arkansas Traveler. Her column appears every Thursday. Follow the sports section on Twitter @UATravSports.