There's been a spate of pieces decrying Major League Baseball's playoff format because the 100-win teams have been on the struggle bus. And of course there are because a few years ago sports media became hopelessly addicted to fixing things that are broken or otherwise. That toothpaste is out of the tube and will never be shoved back in. Some are even going so far to say that the No. 1-seed in each league is at a decided disadvantage because they have a layoff to get rusty as the six others in their bracket stare down potential elimination. There may be a shred of truth there, yet given the option of having a bye or needing an additional round, sanity dictates taking the earned advancement every single time.
In the interest of fairness and concession, I agree that making division series best-of-seven instead of best-of-five would be perfectly okay. Numbers accrued over a 162-game season used to be sacred in baseball but have lost their luster so it would be perfectly fine to reduce the regular-season to 154 or 150 games to get the postseason started earlier. But on the other hand — and this is really crucial — sometimes the underdog wins in sports.
Which is fine, unless you've developed some sort of parasocial relationship with the networks that air the championship series and World Series. Confusingly, a lot of people have done just that and it leads to lines like this from the New York Post.
Who wants to see the Diamondbacks fighting for a spot in the World Series?
I will never, ever understand why small-market teams must get hit with these sideswipes. Arizona went into Los Angeles and won the first two games of their series. They'll have a chance to close it out tonight at home and, even if it were a best-of-seven, a 3-0 lead is virtually insurmountable. The Texas Rangers swept the Baltimore Orioles to advance to the ALCS and would have prevailed in seven games barring a miracle.
We could be looking at a Diamondbacks-Rangers Fall Classic. If that happens, it won't be the end of the world even if the ratings aren't as juicy as they might have been with a more traditionally attractive matchup. If that happens, both teams will have earned it because they played well enough to make the playoffs and played the best once reaching them. Why anyone who wouldn't benefit financially from the sexiest matchup would care that the two most worthy teams are playing for a title is a mystery. Sure, it'd be nice to see the game's biggest stars but at their base level, sports are a competition and we don't always get exactly what we want.
To be clear, I don't want a medal for not giving a shit that the Dodgers and Orioles and Braves/Phillies will be watching at home — or not watching in this case — like the rest of us. What I do want is for teams who win fair and square and push through a more difficult path to get the respect they deserve. I want fans of those teams to not be inundated with swipes about their team from those who must constantly taste sour grapes. It really doesn't feel like too much to ask.
Under the playoff format used from 1903-1969, the Braves and Orioles would already be playing in the World Series. The league championship series were then introduced and, believe it or not, were best-of-five until 1985. The wildcard was first introduced in 1995 and has grown from one team to three. Reasonable minds can disagree about which system has worked best. If we've learned anything, it's that there will be some tinkering going forward.
I'm not trying to sound like a lunkhead here but every team that makes the playoffs is good and even the most proficient regular-season teams must play well to advance. That's not just baseball, that's every sport. In Atlanta's case, Philadelphia may be the hardest to vanquish. Sometimes the test comes in the opening round and gets easier in the seminfinals and finals. Again, not just baseball, but every sport.
The sky is not falling. Teams that are perceived to be the best are simply falling on their face.