Photo Credit: Pirates Breakdown
In the 2015 MLB season, the teams with the top 3 records in the MLB happened to be in the same division, the National League Central. Broken down, that means that the 2nd best team, the Pittsburgh Pirates, in the entire MLB didn’t even win their division, and it means that the 3rd best team in baseball, the Chicago Cubs, were smack in the middle of their own division ahead of only the two teams at the bottom of the barrel of the entire MLB. But after all, that isn’t a big deal, right? It’s only the regular season anyways!
Wrong. It was and is a big deal. Why? Because of how stupid MLB’s playoff format is. The MLB’s playoff format ensures that the three division champions in each league are locked into the divisional round, while the non-division winners with the best two records in each league face off in the Wild Card round for the right to advance into the Division Series, the round that kicked off the playoffs up until 2012.
Now, the MLB did take a step in the right direction in the 2012 season when they added that one-game Wild Card playoff. In each league, instead of the division winners and the top non-division champion team making the playoffs, the division winners and the top twonon-division champion teams make it into the playoffs. Without this rule, the 2015 Cubs, who had the 3rd best record in the MLB, would not have even made it into the playoffs.
But even still, there are flaws. The 2015 season showed it. Because the Wild Card theoretically features the non-division champions, which are the two lowest seeds, this pinned the Pirates and the Cubs, the 2nd and 3rd best teams in the MLB, against each other, which meant that only one of them could even advance to the Division Series, which features eight teams. Why should they be penalized simply because of the division they are in, especially when their division was the toughest in baseball?
So the Pirates, who owned the 2nd best record in baseball, didn’t even get to advance to the traditional playoffs because they lost the one-game Wild Card playoff. And despite having the 3rd best record in the MLB (tied for 2nd after beating the Pirates), the fact that the Cubs were the lowest seed pinned them up against the St. Louis Cardinals, the NL Central champions with the best record in baseball. This meant that only one of the top 2 teams in baseball even had a chance at advancing to the NLCS as one of the MLB’s final four teams.
When it was all said and done, the NL Central could only advance one team to the MLB’s semifinal despite having the teams with the best three records in baseball. Seems fair, doesn’t it?
The 2015 season showed these flaws, and as much as that seemed like a one-in-a-million gig, we’re seeing it again now. This season has illustrated once again that the playoff format needs an overhaul, and simply adding an extra playoff spot in each league will not cut it. The Los Angeles Dodgers, Arizona Diamondbacks and Colorado Rockies have taken the league by storm this season, and all three are in the NL West. For a while, they owned the top 3 records in the National League. Now, they own three of the top 4 records in the National League, but it took an 8-game Rockies losing streak for even that to happen!
As bad as it would be, maybe we should root for the Dodgers, Diamondbacks and Rockies to finish as the top 3 teams in baseball, or at the very least, the National League. Why? Because maybe the MLB will respond with a change that can actually fix their broken playoff system.