MLB needs fair playoff system

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Commissioner Rob Manfred, we have a problem. At least one looming on the horizon that could call into question the so important “integrity of the game” mantras often invoked when potential controversies arise.

There is the real possibility the American League one game Wild Card Playoff will involve a team that has the second best record in all of baseball. And, that second best record may be by a significant margin over the team with the third best mark.

Entering play Monday the top two teams in the AL East had the best records in all of baseball. The New York Yankees were 37-17 and the Boston Red Sox 41-19. Seattle was a game ahead of Houston in the AL West, the Mariners 15 games above .500 and the Astros 13. Meanwhile Cleveland led the weak AL Central with a modest 30-28 record.

Yet, were these five teams to maintain their current paces and finish the season at their current win percentages, the Red Sox would have to face either the Astros in a one-game Playoff to determine which team advances to the ALDS against the three Division winners (Yankees, Cleveland and Seattle). The Yankees get the current Divisional nod for this illustration, having their .002 lead over Boston and playing 6 fewer games).

The introduction of a fifth Playoff team in each League several years ago was met with mixed reactions although currently most observers now applaud, or at least accept, the decision given the drama that the single “play-in” game in each League has often provided.

There have been thoughts expressed that perhaps the Wild Card teams should play a best-of-three series to avoid their entire seasons coming down to just a single game. Critics of that proposal contend it would create too much of a layoff for the Divisional winners who would likely be idle for a week or more. Also a Wild Card series that goes the full three games would tax the bullpens of the surviving team as well as potentially alter their desired starting rotation for the upcoming LDS.

Both are valid concerns but there is a better, albeit also controversial, solution that brings fairness to the Playoffs and rewards a team for having outstanding success despite finishing second to a foe in the same Division but with a more outstanding record. At the same time it would penalize a Division winner from having benefitted from playing in what ostensibly was a much weaker Division but was essentially unable to dominate either inside or outside Divisional play.

Determine the five Playoff teams in the same manner as is done now – the three Division winners plus the two non-Division winning teams with the best records – and seed them one through five based on their records.

Assuming, for arguments sake, the five AL teams noted above finish the season with the number of wins projected by their current win percentages.

The Yankees would finish with 111 wins and be seeded first, just ahead of Division rival and second seeded Boston, which would have 110. The third seed would go to Seattle which is playing on a pace to win 102 games.

Houston is on a pace to win 98 and would be seeded fourth and host fifth seeded Cleveland, projected winner of the AL Central, on pace to win just 84.

Keep in mind that in most cases two outstanding teams in a single Division have those outstanding records compromised by having to play each other while a team that barely finishes above .500 to win its Division has likely struggled against the inferior teams in that Division or was unable to prove its mettle by succeeding against non-Division foes.

Seeding teams from one to five based on their records is not a perfect solution – no solution is perfect. But at the least the regular season and Playoffs would have integrity restored by rewarding the best teams at the expense of giving a free ride to the LDS to lesser teams. A Division winner would still qualify for the postseason – even with a better record than a team that does not qualify – but would not gain an important benefit simply by winning a weak Division.

Put simply, an 85-77 Cleveland team does not deserve a “bye” into the LDS while a 111 win Boston (or Yankees) team would have its LDS “invitation” determined by a one-game, winner-take-all contest.

This could lead to a case in which Divisions are abandoned altogether and there would simply be two 15 team Leagues with the top five teams in each advancing to the post season.

Divisions may have made sense a half century ago when the nation was less mobile and roots in cites grew deep and deeper. But we live in different times and certainly some regional rivalries could exist under such a structure. The schedule could be more balanced and could result in the elimination of interleague play (or just a limited amount).

What if the 15 teams in each league played the other 14 ten times each? That would result in 140 games. Eleven such games (six home and five road in alternating seasons) would result in 154. If MLB wanted to remain at 162 games (rather than cut back to 154 as has been suggested) those additional eight could be interleague.

Something to at least consider in the months ahead, especially if the Yankees, Red Sox and Indians continue to play at or near their current paces.

Here are thoughts on three weekend series.

Atlanta at LA Dodgers: The Braves and Dodgers are meeting for the first time. Surprisingly, the Braves have the much better record (by six games) and started the week atop the NL East, whereas the Dodgers are a game below .500 and in third place in the NL West but just 2.5 games out of first. The Dodgers’ starting rotation continues to be ravaged by injuries and ace Clayton Kershaw made only one start following nearly a month on the DL, lasting just five innings in a 2-1 loss lasting just five innings before leaving due to back pain that, following an MRI, will have him idle for at least a month.

That leaves Ross Stripling and rookie Walker Buehler as their most effective starters, with Rich Hill and Kenta Maeda expected to return within the next week but still leaving three starters on the DL. Atlanta has gotten solid performances from both Mike Foltynewicz and Sean Newcomb while “ace” Julio Teheran has been inconsistent – occasionally brilliant and occasionally extremely hittable.

Offensively the Braves average a half run per game more than the Dodgers although the recent season debut of LA’s Justin Turner should see the Dodgers’ numbers increase. Both teams have been close to neutral in their Over/Under results. Atlanta’s best situation would be in starts by Newcomb and Foltynewicz provided they are underdogs, as most likely will be the case.

Atlanta can be considered as a play if getting at least +130. The Dodgers can be backed in starts by Stripling and Buehler not facing Foltynewicz or Newcomb if favored by -150 or less. In games not involving Foltynewicz, Newcomb, Buehler or Stripling look to OVER 8 or lower. In a matchup involving Foltynewicz or Newcomb against Buehler or Stripling look UNDER 7.

LA Angels at Minnesota: The Angels have struggled to find a consistent rotation with six different pitchers starting at least seven games and three more starting at least once. None is averaging more than 5.7 innings per start.

Of the group, Shohei Ohtani and Jaime Barria have posted the best stats and Andrew Heaney has fared well. Minnesota’s best starter has been Jose Berrios whose 0.95 WHIP attests to the 24-year-old’s potential. Jake Odorizzi and Kyle Gibson are showing signs of improvement as is late spring addition Lance Lynn, although he is barely more than a five inning starter.

Look to play OVER 8.5 or less except in a start by Berrios. He is also the only starter worthy of backing as a favorite, using -140 as the maximum price to lay. At more than -140 take a pass in his start. Otherwise, look to play either team as an underdog of +120 or more (with the exception of a Berrios start) although the Angels can be played as underdogs of any lower price in starts by Barria or Ohtani not facing Berrios.

NY Yankees at NY Mets: After an 11-1 start the Mets were thought to be legitimate contenders with a starting rotation that featured two of the best starters in the National League – Noah Syndergaard and Jacob deGrom – plus an above average lineup. But injuries to both their position players and their pitching, combined with a bullpen whose effectiveness dropped off sharply following their strong start has the Mets now three games below .500 for the season and looking like anything but a Playoffs contender.

The Yankees started slowly in April but then took off following their 9-9 start to win 17 of 18, and started this week atop the AL East with a 37-17 record.

In backing the Yankees the price to lay is no more than -150 in a start by Luis Severino. Otherwise, consider laying the run and a half with Severino against other than deGrom or Syndergaard; and should Severino face either of the two Mets aces the preferred play would be UNDER 7 or higher with consideration also given to playing the First 5 Innings UNDER 3 or higher.

If you are to back the Mets, look to get at least +160 not facing Severino. In games not involving Severino, deGrom or Syndergaard consider playing OVER 8.5 or lower.

About the Author

Andy Iskoe

Owner and author of “The Logical Approach,” Andy Iskoe has been a long time GT columnist, contributing weekly in-season columns on baseball, pro basketball and pro football.

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