Commentary: MLB Mild Card leaves much to be desired

BY TORK MASON | OCTOBER 08, 2012 6:30 AM

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October is upon us, and that means cooler weather, college football, and playoff baseball. It also now means a month of sitting and watching for the Texas Rangers and Atlanta Braves.

Both teams were knocked out in the first “round” of the MLB playoffs on Oct. 5. “Round” seems a bit generous for one game, but that’s good enough for Commissioner Bud Selig.

Not for me, though.

The addition of a second wild-card team is something I support and think could bring even more excitement to baseball’s best month. But a one-game playoff is a travesty.

Baseball, like professional basketball and hockey, is a game of series. Part of the reason the regular season is so long is so the best teams rise to the top. A fluke win here or there doesn’t make a significant difference in a 162-game season. The same goes for the playoffs, when teams play five- and seven-game series.

A team that loses a seven-game series has no legitimate complaint. If you lose a series, there’s not one single happening in just one of the game that caused the loss.

So why put so much emphasis on one game for the wild-card round? It allows for countless variables to determine which team advances, whether it’s the pitching matchup, an uncharacteristic mistake, or a bad call at a crucial moment (Sorry, Braves’ fans, that was an infield fly).

The better team almost always wins in a series, and that’s why it’s the best way to determine the best team in any sport, even if it’s not feasible in a sport such as football.

One-game playoffs used to be only to break a tie at the end of the season. But that’s a game between two teams who finished with the same record. They had all season to separate themselves and earn the final playoff berth outright.

But we can now match up teams that already made that separation and essentially flip a coin to determine which gets into the “real” playoffs.

Don’t get me wrong; I’m not suggesting the better team lost in either game. But there’s no way to know for sure when any number of things can affect the outcome of an individual game.

It goes against tradition, something baseball clings to tighter than a 2-year-old to a security blanket. It also cheats the fans.

Brave third baseman and future Hall of Famer Chipper Jones announced he would retire following the 2012 season, and his final playoff appearance could have been a great story. Instead, fans were left with three throwing errors — including a critical one by Jones on a seemingly tailor-made double play ball, that set up a Cardinal rally.

And Jones predicted how things could play out in the format. Two weeks ago.

“Now, if you were to say the two wild-card teams will play a best two-out-of-three [series], I’d be OK with that,” Jones said about the format in September. “We play three-game series all the time, and we concentrate on winning those series all the time. I think it’s more fair from a standpoint that anything can happen in one game — a blown call by an umpire, a bad day at the office … at least in a two-of-three-game series, you have some sort of leeway.”

It’s especially frustrating to look back at the 2011 postseason, which couldn’t have been scripted more beautifully. I was rooting for St. Louis in Game 6 of the World Series — even as a Cub fan — because it was great baseball, and it didn’t seem right to not have a Game 7.

The wild-card game just doesn’t jibe with any of the beauty of a series.

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