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MLB’s playoff format needs to include best teams

Inbal Gvili, Contributing writer

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After his team didn’t make it into the postseason after qualifying 12 years in a row, Hank Steinbrenner, co-chairman of the New York Yankees, issued a statement badmouthing the postseason qualification format. He was specifically upset that the Los Angeles Dodgers made it in with an 84-78 record, but the Yankees didn’t with an 89-73 record.

The Yankees are in the American League East, along with Tampa Bay, Boston, Baltimore and Toronto. The AL East is one of, if not, the strongest leagues in Major League Baseball, therefore each team has a more difficult season schedule than other leagues. It’s pretty consistent to see two teams from the AL East reach the playoffs each year, meaning that even though they play harder teams, they have to compete so much harder in order to even be second place.

The current postseason format has been the same since 1994, when they introduced the three division/wild card format, where eight teams make it into the postseason. The first six teams chosen are winners from each division (AL West, AL East, AL Central, NL West, NL East, NL Central) and the remaining two teams are wild card teams, filled by the team in each league that has the best record but is not a division champion (best second-place team).

This year the Yankees got beaten out by the Red Sox and Rays, yet still had a better record than the Dodgers. The Yankees had won more games against harder teams, logically making them the better team. According to Steinbrenner, that’s the team that should have a chance to compete for the World Series.

“This is by no means a knock on [former Yankees manager Joe] Torre — let me make that clear — but look at the division they’re in,” Steinbrenner said. “If L.A. were in the AL East, it wouldn’t be in the playoff discussion. The AL East is never weak.”

Steinbrenner also commented on the 2006 St. Louis Cardinals, who entered the playoffs with an 83-78 record and ended up winning the World Series.

“People will say the Cardinals were the best team because they won the World Series,” Steinbrenner said. “Well, no, they weren’t. They just got hot at the right time. They didn’t even belong in the playoffs. And neither does a team from the NL West this season [referring to the Dodgers].”

Critics started complaining when a number of wild card teams started to win the World Series. Considering that they didn’t even win their division to begin with, the spot should be open to a team that plays at its best all season long.

As far as I see it, there are two options. One is to redistribute the leagues and regions to where it’s set up more evenly. As of now, the American League has shown to be more advanced in their technique than the National League as a whole. The AL has won 61 World Series titles, and the NL has won 42 championships.

On the other hand, maybe the distribution and the rearranging of game schedules could be absolutely useless; take the previous season as a perfect example.

The Tampa Bay Rays were at the bottom of their division every year for the past 10 years — ever since the team was formed — but somehow managed to win their division and make it all the way to the World Series in 2008, only to lose to the Philadelphia Phillies. They still had the same schedule and were in the same division for the past 10 years, they just played better and worked harder all season long.

The second option would work better after considering the previous situation: taking the best four teams from the American League, and the best four teams from the National League. Forget about divisions and the wild card, it would be based solely on overall season record for that league. The only way that this format would work though, is if they distributed the games more evenly between the regions: east, west and central.

Steinbrenner’s feelings were understandable; it’s frustrating to see a team that is weaker than yours during the 162-game regular season play when you deserve the spot instead. Considering that the postseason format is fairly new and there are quite a few complaints, the more people talk and bring up their issues, the more likely it is that MLB commissioner Bud Selig will take it into consideration; possibly changing the setup once again, hopefully making it fair enough for all 30 teams.

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