How About A Nine-Game World Series?
So, baseball is going to expand its playoffs, probably by this season. Well, if you can call one additional game in each league an expansion. But what does it mean?
Yes, a one-game playoff can be exciting, but the biggest impact of this plan will occur during the regular season. Previously, teams could essentially have the wild-card locked up and coast through September. You know, like the Red Sox did last . . . um, never mind.
Previously, there hasn’t been any real difference between the wild card and the division championship, but now that difference will be huge. If you’re one of the wild-card teams, not only do you have to play a crapshoot of a one-game playoff to stay alive, you have to use your best available pitcher in that game. And you will do everything you can during the season to avoid falling into that.
If you do survive the one-game showdown, your rotation for the division-round series has been drastically altered.
So, the big winner in this plan isn’t the extra team that gets into the playoffs; it’s the No. 1 seed that gets to face the survivor of the wild-card game. Suddenly, the wild-card victor is one pitcher deeper into its rotation.
The problem with all this is that a one-game playoff is antithetical to everything that a baseball season should be. You spend 162 games relying upon role players and bench players and a deep rotation and a sturdy bullpen, trying to win three-game series after three-game series, and now your season hinges on a winner-take-all contest. Exciting for fans, sure, but the strengths of a good team can be rendered useless in a one-game series.
Which brings up a question: Why are the playoff series five games or seven games to begin with?
In a sport where teams rely on five-man rotations and spot starters for six months, why are the playoffs set up where one pitcher can start three times in a seven-game series? In 2001, the Diamondbacks won a World Series because Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling were able to pitch 59 percent of their team’s innings, after throwing 35 percent during the season. Throughout the playoffs, they were able to start 65 percent of Arizona’s games, after starting 43 percent during the season.
Once upon a time, from 1919-21, the World Series was a best-of-9 format, although none of them went the distance. That also was the format for the first World Series between the AL and the NL, in 1903, and that one went eight games.
Realistically, the public would shun a nine-game World Series. It would drag on too long, and the seven-game playoff has become too ingrained in the public consciousness. But I do think a best-of-9 format with maybe one day off would better replicate the regular season and would better reward teams that were built for the long haul.