It hardly seems fair to play 162 games only to have your postseason berth come down to a one-game playoff.
But as has been the case for the last four years, the final four qualifiers for Major League Baseball’s October (and these days November) fall classic, will have their season extended by the chance of a winning a game that is hardly a sliver of their season schedule.
It’s just another one of those choices baseball has made over the last several years to cater to what today’s instant-gratification society expects from its spectator sports.
But one game?
Of all teams, the Chicago Cubs deserve better than that.
Oh, sure, the Cubs have a pair of division titles over the last decade, but we’ll spare the worn-out postseason history of baseball’s most wonderfully woeful franchise. And it’s not like the Chicago National League entry hasn’t been there before, having participated in seven playoff series over the last 31 seasons following a near 40-year postseason drought.
Still, to have your fate determined by a ground rule, miscue or some other bizarre event (especially for the cursed Cubbies), it would be more representative to at least double the sample size in determining which team advances to the best-of-five Division Series.
A best-of-three would make better sense, especially in line with baseball’s expansion over the last 50 years. For the first 16 years of the Division Series, the format was a best-of-five series, until going to a seven-game playoff (which the World Series has implemented in all but four of its championships). The LCS has been a similar seven-game series since 1985. It should also be noted, however, that baseball has held many one-game playoffs to settle two-way ties for one berth.
Baseball almost got caught making its qualifier for the Wild Card game a longer event than the actual single-game playoff itself, if the Astros, Angels and Twins finished tied for the AL Wild Card berth on Sunday night. The Angels would have held a round-robin tiebreaker to decide whether to play the other two teams on back-to-back days at home, or travel and play the winner of the game between the other two teams while having an extra day of rest.
As always, it would be a case of, “it’s easier to win one game than it is two.”
Then, finally, onto the next round, where Ernie Banks might say today, “Let’s play two…out of three.”
As a general rule, professional bettors are more likely to land on the underdog in nearly every postseason game in baseball, and the bigger the take-back the better. The variance in a one-game determination in a contest of stronger teams lends itself to the decent chance of the “dog” being more “live” in a baseball game than in the other major sports.
That probably includes going against super-stud Jake Arrieta and those lovable losers on Wednesday night at PNC Park despite the factors that seem to favor the top Cy Young Award candidate.
Arrieta has held over this group of Pirates’ hitters even better than his dominant number of this year would insists, as the Bucs have hit just .181 against him in 170 plate appearances. Only Andrew McCutchen (8-for-23) can claim any reasonable success against the Chicago right-hander.
Meanwhile, Gerrit Cole has been touched up by the Cubs’ trio of Anthony Rizzo, Kris Bryant and Starlin Castro at a 15-for-43 (.348) clip.
Arrieta took early money on Sunday night, moving .10 cents or more up to around -120. Early money also took out the 6-unders, as the total will likely be closer to 5½-flat by first pitch. The Buccos also have a pretty big edge in the postseason experience department, having qualified for the Wild Card in each of the previous two years.
In Tuesday night’s Wild Card game in the Bronx, Dallas Keuchel goes on short rest for Houston against Masahiro Tanaka, of the Yankees.
Keuchel has been pretty strong against the Bombers, limiting this group to a .202 average over 92 PAs, as Carlos Beltran (4-for-9, including a homer) and Chris Young (6-for-20) are the only hitters with good success against the lefty. Meanwhile, Tanaka’s sample is shorter, with only 37 plate appearances faced, but the postseason-green Astros have touched up the Japanese star pretty good, hitting .324 with seven extra-base hits.
The Yanks were even money or slightly better for the most part after taking early support as the very small dog. A few shops opened the total a heavily-juiced 7½-under, but most had settled to 7-over by early Monday morning.
Ramon Scott is a Southern California-based sportswriter, covering the preps to the pros for over 25 years. Email: [email protected].