Guerin: New MLB Playoff Format Would Bring Viewers Back to the Regular Season
In a sport riddled with issues, the MLB should try to replicate what are the best two days of the season more often: the wild card games.
Even with one of the games being a relative dud, 2019’s slate showcased why the wild card games are the best baseball have to offer. The Tampa Bay Rays throttled the Oakland A’s, while the Washington Nationals beat the Milwaukee Brewers thanks to some late drama in Washington.
Baseball, a sport known for its slow pace, lackluster number of marquee games, and shrinking audience, puts on an impressive product when the playoffs roll around. The problem is, with the average age of the regular season viewer being halfway in the grave, the sport needs to spice it up.
A change to the playoff format would do just that. The play-in wild card game introduces something that is foreign to baseball purists: urgency. There is more pressure in every at-bat, pitch, and play in the field. The MLB could do well to accommodate the younger viewers as they begin to take over the all-important 25-54 demographic. 98.5 the Sports Hub’s Matt McCarthy might have just the solution.
Under McCarthy’s plan, baseball would abolish divisions. It does make sense, the divisions are becoming less and less competitive. There are never three competitive teams in a division; there are barely even two. Of the eight 2019 playoff teams, five coasted to the playoffs with barely any resistance. Only the wild cards and the NL Central were close at all. It’s time to get meaningful baseball all the way to the end of the season.
The second step in McCarthy’s plan is the create an NFL style of playoffs. The top two seeds in each league get byes to the LDS. The next four play two wild card games that determine the top two seeds’ opponents. The structure is just like the NFL, except it draws on its past by eliminating divisions like it was before 1969.
This solution satisfies the baseball purists and the new fans who want to see an exciting product. As McCarthy outlined, the Minnesota Twins and New York Yankees finished two games apart in the standings. If they were gunning for the bye and the two seed, they could’ve played entertaining baseball all the way down the stretch.
The league style instead of division creates competition just based on their record, not on what division they play in. No one can complain about having to play in the wild card with 101 wins, while the 89-win division winner gets to wait until the LDS to play someone.
A new playoff format should create more regular-season viewers. Playoff races will once again actually mean something, a novel concept for a sport that is seeing a steep decline in ratings since the turn of the century. It’s time for a change, and this solution creates both urgency and nostalgia for different fans, and most importantly, eyeballs on the games.