Wild Card Games Cap Months Long Seasons
• Playoff baseball caps long season for division titles and home-field advantages.
After the 2011 season, Major League Baseball expanded its postseason, adding the win-or-go-home wild card game.
Previously, one team that earned the wild card spot, making them the best team in their respective league to not win their division, would be guaranteed a spot in the division series. But with the amended postseason, the two best teams in each league to not win their division face each other in a winner-take-all, single-elimination game. The winner goes to the division series, and the loser goes home for the winter.
Wild card games have provided some of the most memorable, exciting and heart-stopping moments in baseball over the past nine years. However, it is still a heavily debated postseason topic for a reason that has been illustrated over the course of 2021. The Los Angeles Dodgers won 106 games during the season. But the only team in baseball to have a better record than the Dodgers happened to be the division-rival San Francisco Giants.
Because of this, the second-best team in baseball had to face the St. Louis Cardinals in a single-elimination wild card game. So, is the current MLB postseason format a fair way to determine a World Series champion?
There is one question that needs to be answered in order to argue for or against the wild card game: How much does winning your division matter? Major League Baseball’s current format gives a huge advantage to teams that win their division.
If a team wins its division, it is guaranteed a spot in the division series, a best-of-five series. Also, division winners are guaranteed home-field advantage against wild card teams up until the World Series.
This means that it’s possible for a wild card team to not have home-field advantage against a significantly worse team. Winning your division gives you a huge advantage throughout the postseason.
Many ask why winning your division should matter. Well, each team plays significantly more games against division opponents than against teams in the rest of their league. Teams play division opponents 19 times each season, while they play other opponents in their league just six or seven times. If winning your division doesn’t or shouldn’t matter, then why do teams play division opponents so much more than they play the rest of the league?
Another important question to ask is whether or not the wild card game devalues the regular season. Some argue that playing a one-game playoff after a 162 game season throws out the past six months of baseball. However, others argue that the wild card game actually puts more emphasis on the regular season. After all, if the Dodgers had won two more games in 2021, they would have won their division and clinched home-field advantage throughout October.
Though it is heavily debated, the wild card game provides must-see TV for baseball fans. Given that it is one game that decides a team’s fate, it creates incredible moments year in and year out. And that’s a good thing for Major League Baseball.