Major League Baseball’s abbreviated wildcard round gets under way this evening when the Houston Astros come to the Bronx to play the New York Yankees (known to some as The Evil Empire). The Chicago Cubs travel to Pittsburgh to strap on the Pirates Wednesday. Both games are scheduled to start at 8:08. The winners of these two games move on to the league Division Series that begin Friday.
Baseball’s new wildcard format, which calls for a single game to sort the two non-division winners with the highest won-lost percentages in both Major Leagues, is peculiarly unsuited to the Grand Old Game. A team that has achieved over a 162-game season should not be sent home as the result of losing one of one.
Baseball is not a one-game game. Too much depends on how good a night teams’ pitchers are having in a single game. The longer series tell the story of which team is superior (though even these are not foolproof — look at the ’69 Mets or the ’88 Dodgers). Even the College World Series is double elimination.
The current six-division set-up doesn’t stratify the year’s best teams either. This year’s Chicago Cubs won 97 games and finished with a .599 won-lost percentage, good enough to win any of the five divisions the Cubs are not in. But in the talent-intensive National League Central, this outstanding performance was only good for third place behind the St. Louis Cardinals and the Pittsburgh Pirates.
Imperfections aside, there will be a ton of good baseball talent on display in October (and, it should be mentioned, some household names we won’t be seeing — Bryce Harper, Mike Trout, and Madison Bumgarner just to name three — though I’m sure the Kansas City Royals will be just as happy not to see this last guy again). Baseball aficionados should enjoy the competition, even if not all of the outcomes.