Richard Justice

10-team playoff format perfect as is

10-team playoff format perfect as is

Baseball's playoff format does not need changing. That's the bottom line. As a matter of fact, the 2015 season might end up being validation that it's working exactly the way it was designed to work.

Let's review.

When baseball added a second Wild Card berth in each league for the 2012 season, the thinking was to:

  • Make winning a division more important.
  • Keep more teams in contention deeper into the season.
  • Have the drama of two winner-take-all Wild Card Games at the beginning of the postseason.

Those Wild Card Games were an attempt to capture end-of-season excitement that the sport has enjoyed a time or two in recent years.

And that's how it has worked out.

The scene at PNC Park before the 2013 National League Wild Card Game between the Reds and Pirates was one of the great moments any sport has had in recent seasons.

Players said the experience of that evening -- the packed ballpark, roaring crowd, the anticipation -- was something they'd carry with them for the rest of their lives.

And it was perfect.

Pirates advance to NLDS

Fast forward to 2015, and three NL Central teams -- the Cardinals, the Pirates and the Cubs -- have the league's three best records.

Is that a problem? To some, it is.

They've suggested that having the NL's three best teams in one division creates an unfair playoff setup and suggested reseeding teams after the Wild Card Game.

Otherwise, the Cardinals -- if they hold on to win the Central -- might be playing the NL's second-best team in a best-of-five Division Series.

That suggestion misses a larger point. To reseed the teams would be to diminish the importance of teams winning their divisions, and that was an important part of adding the second Wild Card berth in the first place.

Baseball didn't want teams -- and this happened a time or two -- to pull back in the final days of the regular season because they didn't care whether they got into the postseason via a Wild Card berth or a division championship. Either way, they would end up in a postseason series.

No team feels that way now. They all want to win their division and avoid the risk of playing a one-and-done Wild Card Game.

Here's the other side of the debate.

Before there were Wild Card berths, the second- and third-place teams -- in this case, possibly the Cubs and Pirates -- would have zero chance of making the postseason. Now at least they can finish second or third and still play their way into a Division Series. Giants outfielder Hunter Pence offered the right perspective before the Giants-Pirates NL Wild Card Game last season.

"We're here because we weren't good enough to win our division," Pence said. "This game gives us a second chance to accomplish the things we hope to accomplish."

That's what happened.

Madison Bumgarner threw the first of a string a playoff masterpieces that night at PNC Park as the Giants won the right to face a heavily favored Nationals team in an NL Division Series.

And they were off and running.

Meanwhile, the 2014 Athletics-Royals American League Wild Card Game was an instant classic. How would history have been different if the Athletics had held onto to that 7-3 lead in the eighth inning?

Would the A's have been the team to push the Giants to Game 7 of the World Series?

Perez lifts Royals in AL WC Game

Regardless, very few things in sports are as compelling as a game in which the entire season is riding on the outcome.

Baseball's beauty is that there's almost always a tomorrow, another chance. A deciding game is different.

The playoff format eventually may be tweaked. Owners and players will discuss adding more postseason berths during the upcoming labor negotiations.

That's a discussion apart from this one. As long as we have a 10-team format, this setup gets it right.

Richard Justice is a columnist for Read his blog, Justice4U. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.