Major League Baseball’s Wild Card round definitely had some great moments, perhaps none greater than this one:
But, in spite of some captivating plays and interesting storylines, MLB’s Wild Card round was just a quartet of best-of-three series that all resulted in two-game sweeps. The “series” were not really all that close, with the Rangers, Twins, Phillies and Diamondbacks winning by a combined score of 17-5 on the first day of the playoffs and 21-4 on the second day. For those keeping score at home, the Rays, Brewers, Blue Jays and Marlins lost their four series by a collective margin of 38-9.
The results of MLB’s Wild Card round were not compelling or close. Even if they were, having the playoffs start with a three-game series is not nearly as interesting as having the MLB postseason begin with a one-game playoff. The league, intelligently, added a one-game Wild Card in 2012 as a way of driving up excitement and urgency to a product that lacked both of those elements. But they eliminated the single-game postseason starter in favor of going to a 12-team playoff format, which can at least be partially blamed on the 16-team format MLB used for the 2020 season in order to recoup some financial losses to the COVID-19 pandemic.
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It is understandable that MLB wanted to switch to a best-of-three series instead of a one-game playoff because the switch guaranteed at least one more game to generate revenue, but making that move also makes it much easier for a casual baseball or sports fan to tune out on the start of baseball’s postseason. Watching a winner-take-all game in primetime between two teams to see who gets into the actual playoffs? In. Watching two games of a non-competitive series during the afternoon to see who advances in a postseason you may not be that interested in? Out.
Granted, the three-game series have not always resulted in two-game sweeps, and the one-game playoff games haven’t always been compelling. But the latter format simply lends itself to draw more eyeballs because of its one-and-done format. Single-elimination games make for good TV in the NFL and March Madness, and MLB had a great idea when they started using them a little more than a decade ago. MLB should switch back to that format and add it to the list of fundamental changes to baseball that have been bringing fans back to parks and viewers back to their televisions.
The second round of the MLB playoffs begins on Saturday.