Giants-Braves Game 2, Or Why Playoff Baseball isn’t Like Other Baseball
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The MLB playoff system fascinates me. Especially the divisional round.
So, you probably realize that the MLB regular season is unreasonably long. It stretches for six straight months, with each team playing at least six times every week. Every game matters in the sense that you just don’t know how it’s going to break at the end, whether or not a margin of victory is just a game, or is going to be 14 games. Clearly though, no one is confusing the need to win every game you play as they would with a football season. It’s more like a basketball season: if you have a bad day, whatever. If you have a bad week: you may not be the team you thought you were.
Anyway, we do that for six months. They play the all-star game “for keeps” even though the NL was unsuccessful in ever making up the gap until this year’s late comeback. By the end, the vast majority of playoff teams are leveraging their leads in the division and legal 40-man enhanced rosters into a line-up made up of primarily backups.
Then, as you would imagine to be the case, we have eight of the best teams square off in short five-game series to determine who goes on to the ALCS, probably eliminating a couple of the best-teams-in-baseball in the process.
Obviously, this makes very little sense given the season-long ideals of baseball where the pressure isn’t supposed to be on every team every night to win, but rather, to be the best team in the division over the long haul. For the Tampa Bay Rays, you have to prove over six months that you are more deserving of the top seed in the AL playoffs (and homefield advantage) than the two largest market franchises in all of baseball, Boston and New York. As the seeding would have it, Texas needs just three wins in a preposter0usly-short five game series to make 162 games of Rays accomplishments completely irrelevant.
Generally speaking, the playoff system just doesn’t make a lot of sense in baseball. If you have a playoff system, you already are accepting the trade off between having the best teams play in the World Series every year against the more-preferable revenue stream generated by more playoff baseball games. There’s no reason to rehash the playoff debate. They used to not have playoffs prior to the World Series, then they added them not because they didn’t think there was enough baseball games in a season already to determine who was the best, but because they could have a money-generating showcase between the best teams in the league.
The downside of that: the AL East race which could have been awesome was essentially meaningless. The Rays won the division because they won more games than the Yankees. It sure looks like the Yankees are going to be in the ALCS, while the Rays are going to end their season early than expected. This is because…the Rangers have proven to be a much better team than the Twins through a week in October. Cheer for our wonderful system! I, for one, am glad we got that AL East race settled the proper way.
All of this brings me to the one series that doesn’t appear to be decided yet: the series between the injury-riddled Braves and the scoring-challenged Giants. Playoff baseball has proven, to me at least, to be a different brand of baseball. Intensity levels are higher in the playoffs, and it does seem to change the performance levels of many players. That’s a fairly standard observation — and I wish not to pass judgment on the clutch-ness of any player versus another — but the Braves and Giants played a very epic playoff game yesterday that was a joy to watch. It was a titanic 11-inning battle where every pitch mattered, even if play-by-play commentator Dick Stockton called the 11th inning same as he did the 2nd.
It was must-see TV. And yet, I think in many ways, it showed why baseball just isn’t a “playoff-sport”. In the game, Braves CF Rick Ankiel hit a towering game winning homer off of Giants reliever Ramon Ramirez, making Braves reliever Kyle Farnsworth the winning pitcher. That’s an excellent reason of why these games aren’t any more valuable or harder to win than regular season games. Those three players have just two things in common: they all played for the Dayton Moore/Trey Hillman Kansas City Royals, and they are no better than league average at their positions, and probably are worse. I watched an entertaining game where both teams approached each play with increased intensity — but the quality of the game in extra innings was hardly up to par with baseball prior to the all-star break. None of those players started this season with those teams, but they are the reason the series is 1-1 going back to Atlanta, instead of 2-0 with the Braves on the brink of elimination. The Giants GW RBI in the first game was driven in by OF Cody Ross, a Marlin until the Giants through in a claim to block him from becoming a Padre (allegedly), and the Marlins jumped at the opportunity to dump salary. These are the things playoff heroes are made of!
I guess my point is that there’s no reason we couldn’t have had naturally increased intensity back in September, re: division races. It’s six months and 162 games. Then playoffs, because we essentially waste the final month and a half from a marketing perspective. Then the Rays get eliminated, and we lose that selling point. Instead, MLB playoff marketers must convince Cowboy fans now that the Rangers are the hot ticket in town. Good luck with that.
We all know the result of close playoff baseball games matters in a way that close regular season games do not, because a teams ability to win 11 out of 18 times against a playoff opponent is irrelevant if that opponent can win 4 of the first 5. I can just safely point out that even with that necessary evil, having a five game series decide ANYTHING is ridiculous. If seven-game series are used to determine champions, it makes absolutely no sense to play five game opening rounds. I’m just surprised that the need for instant replay in playoff baseball has all of the relevant headlines when the system allows elimination in just three losses by teams who have 65-70 of those equivalent losses on the season.
Where is the dissatisfaction with such an insane playoff system, and why can’t I find any links?