A little over a month ago, as the season was moving in to August, I looked in to my crystal ball to forecast that the Twins and White Sox would finish the season tied for the AL Central Division title with identical 92-70 records, sending the teams in to yet another Game 163 to settle things. Since we’re now heading in to the final four weeks (and eight series) of the season, I decided to check in on these teams to see whether I need to adjust my forecast.
I know this will come as a terribly disappointing shock to all of you, but I was wr… wrrrr…. wrrrrrr… wronnnn… not entirely correct. There will be no Game 163 this year between the Twins and Sox. According to the advanced analytical formulas I applied to the two teams’ remaining schedules last month, and adjusting for actual performance, the Twins will finish the season with a 95-67 record, while the Bitch Sox limp to the finish line at 91-71… and that assumes they can dupicate the Twins’ sweep of the Royals this weekend, which I’m no longer all that certain they can do.
So, as much fun as that extra game at the Dome was against the Tigers last season, we will not be repeating the experience this October. Bummer, eh? For a while I was even dreaming of scenario where there would be a Game 164… where the Rays and BitchSox would have to play for the Wild Card spot after the Twins disposed of the Sox in Game 163.
Of course, it’s still conceivably possible that the Rays will collapse to the point of allowing the Sox to tie them for the Wild Card. And as much fun as it would be to see all of the smartasses in the media who’ve been talking like the Wild Card couldn’t possibly go to anyone outside of the Almighty AL East proved wrong, the Rays would have to pretty much lose every series through the end of the season to drop down to the number of wins I see the Sox scraping together. But hey, I’ve been wrr… wrrr… not 100% accurate with my predictions before so, it could happen! Then, at least we’d all have a really interesting game to watch while we waited a couple of days for our Twins to begin their inevitable march to the World Series.
There’s really nothing like a “win or go home” game, is there? It’s something we take for granted in the NFL playoffs and the NCAA basketball tournament, but when it comes to baseball (or the NBA or NHL for that matter), the very nature of their playoff series is such that you seldom have the dramatics of a game where both teams need a win to avoid seeing their seasons end short of a championship. A Game 5 of a Division Series or a Game 7 of a League Championship Series or World Series, yes those are rivoting. But far, too rare. (Quick… what’s the last Game 7 you can recall watching? Can’t remember? Don’t feel bad… of the last 14 postseason series, only 1 has gone to a deciding game… and out of 105 series since the introduction of the Wild Card, only 18 have gone the distance.)
But that Game 163 has provided that drama the last two years, too. And not just for Twins fans. Do you realize that last year’s Game 163 was the most watched game of MLB’s regular season? That’s not because Detroit and Minneapolis are huge TV markets, folks. 6.5 million people watched that game on cable television. Why? Because baseball fans all over the country knew it as a “sudden death” game (or at least it turned out that way for the Tigers).
Wouldn’t it be cool if we could have a couple of those games EVERY season? (OK… maybe just for the benefit of our own health around here, it wouldn’t be a bad idea to let a few other teams take a turn with the Game 163. It doesn’t need to be the Twins every year!)
Well Tom Verducci, over at SI.com, has figured out a way to do just that. In this column, he proposes one tiny little tweak to MLB’s playoff system that would (a) make the last month of the season a lot more interesting for fans of a lot more teams, (b) force teams to put more emphasis on winning their division instead of locking up the Wild Card and coasting through the final weeks, and (c) guarantee that we’d all get to see at least two “sudden death” games every post-season.
Verducci proposes adding a Game 163 in each league by adding an extra Wild Card spot… and holding a one-game, winner-moves-on-loser-goes-home game the day after the final game of the regular season. No “two days to rest up”. The team with the fewer wins gets their asses on a plane after their last game and heads out to play the other Wild Card team for the right to face the Division Champion with the best record. Do you think the threat of being one-and-done AND having to use your #1 starter while your potential next opponent sets their rotation wouldn’t make managers go all out to win divisions?
I admit part of the reason I like this idea is that I don’t think there’s enough of a “penalty” for Wild Card teams. They don’t even have to play the Division Champion with the best record if that team is from their own division. So they don’t get home field advantage, big whoop.
You can (and should) read Verducci’s whole column to get a full dose of his arguments why this set up would make sense, but for our purposes, let’s just look at what kind of effect it would be having on the American League if that system were in place this year:
- Instead of everyone handing two playoff spots to the Yankees and Rays, with no more on the line than home field advantage in the ALDS, those two teams would be fighting over which gets assured of a “best of five” ALDS series and which has to roll the dice on one game against another Wild Card team.
- Instead of the White Sox being consumed with catching the Twins (OK, I admit they’re ALWAYS consumed with catching the Twins) or hoping for the unlikely total collapse of the Rays, they’d have a legitimate shot at the second Wild Card even after the Twins stomp out their Division Title hopes next week.
- Instead of the Red Sox playing out the season, they’d have a half-game lead over the Bitch Sox for that second WC spot.
- And get this… Toronto would be just 5 and a half games out of a Wild Card spot, as well (and who knows how much closer they might be if they hadn’t felt like they were eliminated back in, what, May?).
- Even fans in Detroit and Oakland would still be paying SOME attention to their teams instead of watching them play out the season (or more likely NOT watching them play out the season once football season starts).
Tell me there wouldn’t be a lot more excitement among MLB fans if these scenarios existed! And as an added bonus, if you’re the Blue Jays and Orioles, now you don’t have to break Spring Training every year knowing you have no chance to make the playoffs. All you have to do is finish 3rd in your division and have a better record than the runners-up in the Central and West. If you can’t even do that, then just STFU.
Down in Class AAAA (known by some as the National League), those Division races in the East and West would be much more intense AND fans in Colorado and St. Louis wouldn’t be quite so ready to tune out.
Perhaps the best thing about this plan is that it doesn’t have to add a single day to the playoff calendar. No off days between the end of the regular season and these Wild Card play-in games. You don’t like the idea of spending two days traveling and playing an extra game while your potential next round opponent is resting up and waiting for you? Win more games next year and win your damn division!
The bottom line, for me, is that when September and October rolls around, I’m not ready to stop watching baseball. I like football. I watch it. College and NFL. But it’s crunch time in Major League Baseball and fans are tuning in for frigging PRE-SEASON football games intead of watching what should be the most important weeks in MLB’s calendar.
Finally, Verducci also ran his proposal by Bud Selig. Bud thinks things are fine the way they are. Of course, he does. He ALWAYS thinks things are fine the way they are. Even if I didn’t like this idea, the mere fact that Selig was not supportive would tell me it’s a brilliant idea. If Bud thinks it’s wrong, it’s GOTTA be right!
Just one more reason why Major League Baseball needs Jim Crikket (or at least Tom Verducci) as its new commissioner. – JC