Baltimore Orioles: Skepticism on the Value of the MLB Playoffs


Oct 5, 2014; Detroit, MI, USA; Postseason on deck circle before game three of the 2014 ALDS baseball playoff game between the Detroit Tigers and the Baltimore Orioles at Comerica Park. Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

Forgive me today for being a bit nostalgic about the good old days of Major League Baseball when I was a kid and when there were 10 teams in each league, with the winner of each meeting in a single best-of-seven World Series. There was no doubt that the best team in each league would be in the World Series, rather than a meeting of two wild card teams such as we have this year with the San Francisco Giants and Kansas City Royals.

I suppose I could be criticized for this train of thought because our beloved Baltimore Orioles were eliminated this past week – after an excellent 96-win season, and by a team that would have finished seven games behind them. Of course, the Angels would have been three games ahead of the O’s in a winner-takes-all regular season.

Actually stirring my comments on this subject are several articles I’ve seen this weekend that somewhat address this theme. Add to this the skeptical rant of a Facebook friend of mine (who is actually a lifelong Phillies fan), where he wrote this week:

"“Well, the best teams in each league have been eliminated in the MLB playoffs by wild card teams. In a nutshell, that’s why I couldn’t care less about the baseball postseason. Wildcards may be (barely) acceptable in football, with its 16-game regular season and unbalanced schedules. But having wildcards in baseball makes a mockery of the 162-game regular season. More than in any other sport, variables, “hot streaks,” and luck play a role in the outcome of individual games and short series, and it is the long haul that separates the best from the rest.”"

While this may be an overstatement from the acerbic keyboard of my most passionate sports-minded friend, I have to confess to having had some measure of the same sentiment over the decades since expanded playoffs.

And the MLB playoffs are indeed a little bit like running 199 laps of the Indianapolis 500, and then picking out the best four cars to race one final lap around the 2.5-mile track.

But even as I admit this, I confess also that I don’t have a better solution. Expanded playoffs with wild card teams do indeed get more teams involved in postseason scenarios – along with their fans, with their fannies in the seats, and with their wallets out of their fanny pockets.

Additionally, in the oft-case situation where there are two (or occasionally now, even three) of the best teams in one division, it allows for them to all justly be in the postseason equation. This division is quite often the American League East.

Responding to the reality of two wild card teams in the World Series, Dan Duquette was quoted in Roch Kubatko’s column as saying…

"“The postseason, because it’s a short series, it’s a bit of a crapshoot, but if your team is hot and you have your roster tuned up, I think that’s really the formula. I have to give K.C. a lot of credit. Things seemed to come together for them at the right time. We didn’t play our best ball last week.”"

That is not a whole lot different than the viewpoint my snarky friend wrote.

This year will mark the sixth time that a wild card team is world champion, as five such teams have won the World Series previously…

  • Florida Marlins – 1997
  • Anaheim Angels – 2002
  • Florida Marlins – 2003
  • Boston Red Sox – 2004
  • St. Louis Cardinals – 2011

But it is not just the sport of baseball that has this phenomenon occur. A total of six wild card teams have won the Super Bowl, including one that we hold as dear to us in Baltimore.

The Oakland Raiders were the first NFL team to be a wild card Super Bowl winner, doing it in 1980, just two years after the inception of the expanded system. The other teams are…

  • Denver Broncos – 1997
  • Baltimore Ravens – 2000
  • Pittsburgh Steelers – 2005
  • New York Giants – 2007
  • Green Bay Packers – 2010

Baltimore Ravens writer John Eisenberg picked up this theme in an article this weekend about what goes around, comes around. His thesis was that, just as Charm City fans were the joyful recipients of the Ravens getting hot at the right time two years ago (though they were divisional champs – barely crawling into the playoffs), we are now on the receiving end of running into such a hot squad as the Royals are in baseball this October.

I also read a USA Today article by Chris Chase on the theme that the KC Royals were not just lucky and that the MLB playoffs are not unfair. His point is that these structures allow for drama in sports, with comeback possibilities, and that is good. Even though it may be true that the Royals are not the best team in all of baseball, they have been the best team when it really counts.

And then, the writer throws in an extra thought to balance it out … a thought that is not exactly a warm fuzzy for Baltimore fans…

"“But the pendulum swings too far the other way sometimes. Just because the Royals have won eight straight doesn’t mean Ned Yost is right about bunting, the same way Joe Flacco didn’t suddenly become one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL because Rahim Moore couldn’t defend a pass and the San Francisco 49ers couldn’t score late in Super Bowl XVLII.”"

Sports! You gotta love them! These debates are what make the playing of games so great, and what makes our FanSided Network so awesome!