Baseball BeatOctober 10, 2006
League Championship Series Predictions
By Rich Lederer

The American and National League Championship series are upon us. Oakland vs. Detroit and New York vs. St. Louis. The A's have the home field advantage in the ALCS even though they didn't have it in the ALDS. The Mets, who were the only favorites to win last week, retain home field advantage in the NLCS.

There will be no predictions this time around. Not gonna go there again. No need to embarrass everyone - including myself - a second time. Once is enough.

If there was a lesson to be learned in the Division Series, it is this: Any MLB team can beat any other MLB team in a short series. Period. Better yet, put an exclamation point at the end of that sentence. And, while we're at it, let's put it all in caps and in bold and in a larger font size.


How's that?

Now that proclamation doesn't mean that "any MLB team will beat any other MLB team in a short series." There is a big difference. I'm not saying that the inferior team *will* win; rather, I'm saying that the inferior team *may* win. Everybody needs to remember that simple tenet. You. Me. The New York media. George Steinbrenner. Every. Body.

This isn't 1968. Bob Gibson and Mickey Lolich are retired. The Chicago Seven is nothing more than the Cubs starting rotation. And the Oakland Raiders sure as heck aren't going to be in the Super Bowl this year.

For the past 38 years. . .err. . .For 37 of the past 38 years, baseball has traded quality for quantity. More is better. More teams. More divisions. More series. More this. More that.

What were they thinking when they came up with the idea of the wild card? After a 162-game season, teams that did not win their division get another chance to win their league and win the World Series? What a country! Step right up! Everybody's a winner. Give everybody a participation trophy while we're at it. Nobody goes home a loser. (I can hear Jay Stewart now, telling the Tampa Bay Devil Rays that their consolation prize is the #1 pick in the June draft.)

The bottom line is that the postseason is no longer what it once was. Teams no longer play 154 or 162 games to determine who wins the pennant and goes to the World Series. Today, teams play nearly every day for six months so baseball can determine which EIGHT teams make the playoffs, including two clubs that weren't even good enough to beat out teams in their own division!

As a result of this more egalitarian system, the best teams no longer wind up in the World Series. In fact, wild cards have advanced to the Fall Classic in each of the past four years and five of the last six. The wild cards even won three championships in a row, including one in which both teams made it in through the back door.

2005: Chicago White Sox in four games over the Houston Astros*
2004: Boston Red Sox* in four games over the St. Louis Cardinals
2003: Florida Marlins* in six games over the New York Yankees
2002: Anaheim Angels* in seven games over the San Francisco Giants*
2000: New York Yankees in five games over the New York Mets*

* denotes wild card

Makes you want to put down some money on the Tigers, huh?

The whole point is that **** happens in the postseason. Teams with home field advantage can and do lose. Underdogs can and do win. Wild cards have as good of a chance to win as anyone else. Billy Beane was - and is - right: The playoffs are a crapshoot. Nothing less. Nothing more.

Oh, sure, you've got to get there. I understand that. But once you're there, the nature of the beast (five and seven game series) is such that any MLB team can beat any other MLB team in a short series. Period. Exclamation point.


It's this kind of thing that give Mets fans an inferiority complex. First you pick the Dodgers over the Mets, when the Mets are CLEARLY a better team. Now, the Mets match up even BETTER against the Cards, and you have to come up with this lame reason not to pick them.

Of course you are correct about a short series. The best example I can think of is the Mets vs. Reds in '73. So I am not saying Cards don't have a chance, or even that that the Mets will win. But it is obvious that the Mets right now are better than the Cards, and they SHOULD win. And that's why you should say Mets in 6.

P.S. If the Mets do win, and go on to face the great Tiger (or A's) pitching in the WS, you are now obligated NOT to pick the American League team over the Mets, because, after all, anything can happen.

You bring up a good point about the somewhat unfair advantage wild card teams have. They are allowed into the postseason without winning their division. I see two serious problems with the current wild card situation:

1. The wild card doesn't have enough of a penalty for not winning the division. In effect, the wild card team is as good as the worst division winner in that it only gets one less home game. That's not much of an incentive to win your division with one of the two best records.

2. The wild card team is not allowed to play its division rival in the first round of the playoffs. Take this year, for instance. While the Tigers had to play the team with the best record, the Yankees were not allowed to play the team with the worst record (the Athletics). The team with the best record is actually punished because the second-best team in its division didn't get into the playoffs. This doesn't make sense. If the current four-team playoff remains, the teams should be seeded 1-4, regardless of division.

I favor a fifth team being added to the playoffs with the two wild card teams in a one-game playoff on Monday. The winner then has to face the team with the best record in a best-of-five series, beginning on Tuesday. This makes the wild card an even greater Billy Beane "crapshoot." It rewards the division winners, because they get to set up their pitchers and aviod the one-game playoff. The wild card teams would most likely use their number one starters to win the one-game playoff. From a revenue standpoint, how high would the TV ratings be for the Monday game? Theoretically the only owners who would be against this would be ones that believe their teams to be perennial wild card winners (in the current format). Considering the unpredictability of the wild card, there should be no one who fits into this category. If anything, owners would approve it because it allows more teams to be contenders later in the season.
This system rewards division winners and penalizes wild card teams (while still giving them a chance to win the World Series).

I don't see any negatives. Maybe it's just me.

I don't get this whole "penalize the wild card team" movement.

As a Red Sox fan, I have to admit that I would have been REALLY pissed in 2004 if one of the two best teams in all of baseball was penalized any more than it already was in the playoffs. Bad enough Boston gave up home field advantage in the ALDS to an inferior team that it dispatched easily, but they should have been further disadvantaged?

The fact of the matter is, sometimes the WC team will be a good team that gets hot and steals success, and sometimes the WC does what it was meant to do and protect teams like the 1993 SF Giants from missing out on the playoff fun. Boston and NY in 2004 were virtually evenly matched, with NY taking a slightly better record and therefore meriting home field advantage...but as Boston proved, in 2004 it was the Yankees, the Red Sox, and everyone else, and just because the two best teams were in the same division doesn't mean one should be almost cast aside.

Here's a suggestion: Elimiate the divisions. Go back to the way it was before 1969. Since the four playoff team system per league has been accepted, in order to let the #1 seed vs. #4 seed & #2 seed vs. #3 seed play against each other, the divisions should be eliminated. That way there is no way we have to worry about anything like two teams from the same division cannot play one another, for example. There is no need for divisions now. Just let the top four teams in each league make the playoffs, then you can have 1 vs 4 and 2 vs 3. With this change, there won't be a fifth playoff team needed (though the owners might like that since it will add two more playoff games).

Once again: Eliminate the divisions, just have the AL and the NL. Who's with me?

I think that Ralph C.'s idea is a great one, one that I advocate as well, but it will never happen.

The whole anti-wildcard movement seems to be truely based on nothing more than "I oppose change." Lots of complaints about the best teams, presumed to be division winners, not making the WS. This ignores the fact that, quite often, a wildcard team ends up with more regular season wins than a division winner in the same league. Not once in the last five years has there been a postseason where a MLB Wildcard (from either league, sometimes both) that did not have a better record than a division-winning opponent. How are they inferior to a division winner?

It just seems to me that the arguments don't fall in line with the position. If people "want to see the best teams in the world series," fine. Get rid of leagues and divisons altogether, give everyone an equal amount of games against each team, and let the two top teams sock it out at the end of the season. Getting rid of the wildcard wouldn't really do much to make sure that good teams stay in and bad teams stay out.

Rich, I always enjoy reading anti-wild-card rants. I especially loved the participation trophy line. I may have to borrow that one sometime.

Ralph C. - Your idea is just so crazy it might work! I thought that we were beyond going back to the way it was because there are so many teams. But, I never considered using the top two teams from two divisionless leagues. Genius.

Finally, Dave X - I admit that change can suck, but it's not the sole reason to hate the wild-card. The fact that some division winners have worse records than the wild-card only proves that there are too many divisions.

How about this as an expansion of what Ralph C. suggested. Try to stay on board as my train of thought rounds the bend...

The World Series should feature the best of two leagues, right? If that's the case, can a balanced intraleague schedule be built while continuing interleague play, but not counting interleague records toward playoff contention? It might be the best of both worlds. You get the interleague play that we supposedly want so badly. But, you use only intraleague records to determine the league (and/or division) champions. If you want the interleague records to be meaningful, then have them determine who gets home-field advantage in the World Series.

I don't know - we might be onto something. Just a little league shifting and schedule balancing and we've got a better product with a more equitable post-season, right?

The current format rewards the team that is playing best at the end of the season, regardless of its overall season performance. Used to be the whole season mattered--teams in the World Series were not always the ones playing best at year's end. If Ralph C's idea is to work properly, all teams must play each other the same number of times and the same number of times in each other's park. I don't know if that's feasible. Better would be two 16-team leagues; 4 divisions each. Division winners play off.

Ralph's idea is brilliant in its simplicity. The best reason for having the wildcard is that it ensures the 2nd best team in each league always qualifies, with Ralph's idea this is always the case.

I think the idea of the fifth team (posted by Andrew) is actually plausible. Owners, players, fans would all be on board for one more game in each league. Plus, it keeps more teams in contention longer. The odds of the 5th best team being considerably better than the 6th best team are much smaller than the 4th over the 5th, so the race for the last spot would be tight.

The wild card penalty guys usually seem so reactionary. Let's just go back to when there were no bullpens, starting pitchers threw 400 innings, spitters were allowed, a ball that bounces over the fence counts as a home run, etc. And the shortstop, why, that's a modern invention, brought about in what, 1857? Get rid of it.

The wild card penalty crowd also seems somewhat whiny. "Oh no, the team with the best record doesn't win the World Series every year! Sob sob sob." Too bad. If they're so good they have to beat the "hot" teams as well as the regular ones. If they're so good they shouldn't need all of these extra advantages and such. Other sports penalize the wild card but they also have a salary cap - a lot of this complaining sounds like disgruntled big market (coughcough Yankees) fans and their misguided anger that their team doesn't just roll to a World Series victory every year. I like the feeling that anything can happen.

The team with the best record in the league is often not the best team. At least to me. Look at the powerhouse 2003 Atlanta Braves. Led the NL in victories. They had a great lineup but an iffy middle of the pen and iffy starting pitching. Teams like that deserve to be bounced in the first round. Why we should put up more roadblocks so that teams have a tougher time knocking out teams like the Braves with their duo of aces in Mike Hampton and Russ Ortiz (in 2003) is beyond me. That team was not the best and didn't deserve to be propped up by a lot of wild card penalties and largess that comes from having the best record. That goes for "the best team ever" the 2001 Mariners too. Wildly successful regular season champs, they got bounced from the playoffs because they deserved to be. Deal with it complainers.

The Yankees didn't get knocked out of the playoffs because of the format. They got knocked out because they choked. Everyone chalks it up to starting pitching, but the Tigers' pitching was far more shut down than it should've been. The Yankees have had a lot of success against Kenny Rogers in the past and Verlander and Bonderman are still pitchers who make a lot of mistakes and can be hit hard. Kenny Rogers especially, the Yanks should've taken him out to the woodshed.

What does the Yankees losing have to do with the wild card debate? This has been going on for years now, so it is not just about this year's playoffs.
Also, I don't know how supporting an idea for 10 teams in the playoffs is somehow old-fashioned. It's actually progressive. APing, you're the one who thinks everything's just fine the way it is. That sounds more traditionalist to me. Some people can have debates without showing their blind hatred for one team that isn't even at the center of the argument.

Even though my Tigers got in because of the Wild Card, I've always been a proponent eliminating the playoffs and going back to the way things were before 1969. People point to the exciting races, but all you'd have to look at is 1967 to recognize you can still have a lot of excitement under the old format.

The ultimate test is those 162 games. Not a best of seven series.

The elimination of divisions, or the number of teams in the playoffs probably won't happen. More teams would be "out of it" earlier, fans would lose interest by July, and overall revenue would suffer. Or at least that's what the commish would tell us.

I think the wild-card team should have to play the winner of their division in the first round. Get past your divisional foe in five games, then you can advance.

What do the Yankees have to do with anything? Well, this topic mentions them quite clearly, doesn't it? To add to that, amusingly enough, most of the calls for the wild card penalties come after the Yankees are eliminated on a yearly basis.

I for one don't believe a full season is any better of an indicator. I've seen too many of those 2003 Braves types teams with the gaudy win totals and Russ Ortiz type pitchers as their ace.

I seriously don't get the anti-wild-card bias here. You're telling me that the 2002 Angels, a team that very slightly underperformed its Pythagorean won/loss numbers but was therefore arguably the best team in baseball, should have been excluded from the postseason mix? Moreover, your disdain for divisions is in equal parts perplexing and incomprehensible; over the last decade, the Yankees would have won the divisionless American League six times out of ten. The last time this happened, the Yanks were owning the AL from 1947-1964, an 18-year span that saw enormous attendance declines, especially early on; surely, some of that had to do with the homogeneity of the offenses, but some certainly had to do with the Yankees' domination of the league.

There was basically zero interest in any of the three division races and the wild card in the American League in 2002.

TEAM         W    L   PCT  GB
Yankees     103   58  .640  -
Red Sox      93   69  .574  10.5
Blue Jays    78   84  .481  25.5
Orioles      67   95  .414  36.5
Devil Rays   55  106  .342  48
TEAM         W    L   PCT  GB
Twins        94   67  .584  -
White Sox    81   81  .500  13.5
Indians      74   88  .457  20.5
Royals       62  100  .383  32.5
Tigers       55  106  .342  39
TEAM         W    L   PCT  GB
A's         103   59  .636  -
Angels       99   63  .611   4
Mariners     93   69  .574  10
Rangers      72   90  .444  31

If there were no divisions (yet the same records), the Yankees and A's would have tied for first place and been forced into a 2-of-3 playoff for the AL pennant to determine the league representative in the World Series. I think that is just as exciting - if not more so - than the current setup.

That said, the reality is such that we can't look back and say this team would have or even should have won because the schedules are unbalanced. I would have no problem with four divisions of eight teams. The winners of each league could play each other for the pennant with the survivors facing off in the World Series. But I'm not a believer in wild cards advancing to the postseason.

Under a balanced schedule format, it is illogical to reward a team that finishes with a worse record over the course of the regular season than another team in its own division. The purpose of the regular season should be to eliminate those teams with inferior records while identifying and rewarding the teams with the best records.