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Expanded Baseball Playoffs: A Lousy-Sounding Idea Turns Into a Decent One

Back in November, when baseball commissioner Bud Selig floated the idea of adding more wild-card teams to the

already-bloated playoffs

, I thought it was the logical continuation of his

long-running campaign

to make the sport as tedious and pointless as possible. I was wrong.

What I hadn’t counted on was that Major League Baseball has already overstretched its schedule. There’s no room to fit in a full extra round of playoffs without moving the World Series deeper into November, which the commissioner’s office is against.

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So the only thing to do with the extra wild-card team is to have it play the other wild-card team in a

quick elimination playoff

—a one-game showdown, or at worst a three-game set.

This would be almost as good as getting rid of the wild card altogether. The current system is annoying and frustrating for four major reasons:

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1. It kills the division races between the top teams. Right now, if two division rivals are neck and neck for the best record in the league, they don’t really care who formally finishes ahead of whom. Instead of battling down to the wire, the contenders can wrap up the season with

bench-dumping exhibitions

straight out of Grapefruit League.

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2. It treats the results of an an unbalanced schedule as if they mean something. The wild-card standings say a team that won 91 games is clearly more deserving than a team that won 90—even if they compiled those records in different divisions, playing different numbers of games against different opponents.

3. It can allow an

embarrassingly mediocre team

a chance to get hot and win the World Series.

4. It can create a sad parody of a playoff race, where teams that are essentially playing .500 ball drift aimlessly in and out of striking range of the wild-card slot, and people have to respectfully pay attention to them.

The instant wild-card death match would solve or mitigate three of those. No one would settle for coasting to a second-place finish if that would mean being stuck in the quick-elimination round. The 90-win team would get a crack at the 91-win team. And whichever wild-card team did survive would be at a disadvantage against a first-place team that had time to rest and set its pitching rotation.

The only drawback would be that even more bad teams would be involved in the stumbling race for the final playoff spot. But at least that would no longer be the most exciting thing about September.

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