x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Pros and cons of the wild-card way

You might say the play-offs have become watered down after seeing the Braves' clubhouse celebration when they clinched a wild-card berth.

The Baltimore Orioles have qualified for the post-season for the first time since 1997, but the format will be a little different this year.
The Baltimore Orioles have qualified for the post-season for the first time since 1997, but the format will be a little different this year.

Three cheers to Major League Baseball for long distinguishing itself from other American sports by demanding higher standards for its play-off qualifiers.

Basketball and hockey spend more than half of the year eliminating fewer than half of their teams.

Surely the plan originated with a student who began the school year with a list of all classmates to consider inviting to the prom, then scratching off only a handful during the months leading up to the big dance.

Football admits a dozen of its 32 teams. Its whole post-season lasts only 11 games, affirming the entertainment adage that giving people too little is preferable to too much. Yet, awarding byes is troublesome. Ideally, play-offs should launch with the contestants on equal footing.

Only 18 years ago, the MLB in October was as exclusive as the Frank Sinatra wives' club. Of 28 teams, four were waved through.

Since, baseball has maintained a dignified structure, with three division champions and an extra from each league.

Though the wild-card entrants' success - five World Series titles, five runners-up - has rankled some purists, the cast usually is devoid of undeserving squads.

Now, MLB risks his status by opening the gates a bit wider. It is welcoming a second non-division winner per league, thus creating a landmark on Friday: the first wild-card games.

Its stated intent was to keep fans from tuning out in September by keeping more teams in the play-off chase. Consider it done.

This also being debate season in the US, with the candidates for president facing off from behind podiums, let the back and forth begin on the merits of play-off expansion.

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For What a tasty start to the post-season, two do-or-die games on opening day. Sort of like your favourite band kicking off a concert with their two coolest songs.

Against You ignore the tilted playing field that disadvantages the wild cards. The two winners, after using up their ace pitcher, enter the next round with their No 2 arm going against the rested opponents' main man.

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For Cry me a river. Those teams failed to win their divisions, so they pay the price.

Against A high price that you would not pay were it tagged on to a store product. Besides, one day cannot determine the better baseball team.

The entire pitching staff should be tested over the course of several games. That is why the most recognised phrase in American sports - OK, along with "Super Bowl" - is World Series. Which, by the way, was born more than a century ago as a best of nine. Why, tiebreakers used to be best of three, unlike the current single game approach.

Even the All-Star game was once All-Star "games" - two per year. One-game showdowns are a lousy fit for baseball.

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For Not that you are old-fashioned, but you probably make calls on a rotary phone and listen to music on a phonograph. You must accept that the closing stretch of the season overflowed with excitement. Of the 15 series that commenced Monday, 10 carried playoff implications.

Against You conveniently forget about those unworthy National League teams that hung in the race until near the end. The Brewers barely had a winning record. Shoot, the Phillies were buried so far under .500 that they started trading away their stars, only to awaken one morning in wild card contention.

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For With only one-third of their teams getting in, MLB remains a long way from the come-one, come-all nature of the post-seasons for guys wearing trainers or skates. Give baseball some credit.

Against Instead, give me a nice, symmetrical eight-team bracket. As Einstein said: "Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler."

Speaking of which, whoever heard of a 2-3 set-up - the wild-card winners opening the next round with two home games, then on the road for three?

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For Blame it on a calendar quirk. That is changing next year to the standard 2-2-1. As Anonymous said: "Rome was not built in a day."

Against Unlike wild card "champions", who evidently can be determined in a day. You might say the play-offs have become watered down after seeing the Braves' clubhouse celebration when they clinched a wild-card berth. Except it was not water they were spraying out of bottles on each other. Atlanta are a solar system away from the World Series title. This was not worth more than a few extra high-fives.

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For Who can fault them for being excited over their history-making roles in the inaugural wild card games? Here is a novel idea: see how this works out, then revisit the topic next season.

Against Agreed. But if MLB is weighing another expansion to 12 teams, rather than three cheers, it's three strikes for me - and I am out of here.

sports@thenational.ae