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SportsColumnistsNeil Best

One-game wild-card playoff format in baseball is dramatic, but unfair

Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred listens during a press

Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred listens during a press conference after his first owners' meeting as baseball commissioner, Thursday, May 21, 2015, in New York. Photo Credit: AP / Bebeto Matthews

The one-game, winner-take-all, wild-card playoff format is four years old now, but this is the first time it has involved a New York team.

Meaning, of course, this is the first time the subject and the debate that surrounds it truly matter.

About that: Is this fair? In a word: not really. OK, that's two words. But a simple "no" doesn't quite cover it.

This system certainly is fairer than the old one, in which second-place teams with good records did not much care about winning division championships because doing so wasn't much of an advantage.

Alas, the new system overcompensates in the opposite direction.

Is it exciting and dramatic and TV-friendly to stage a one-and-done postseason game? Yes, of course it is. But that's not baseball, Suzyn.

If drama is all we care about, why not go full football and just make every round a single game? Schedule the World Series for a Tuesday in mid-October -- not on a football night, obviously!!! -- and be done with it.

But that would be silly, of course, for a sport in which the best teams lose 60 games and the worst win 60 thanks to the vagaries of pitching.

It just seems wrong for a 162-game slog to come down to whether the Yankees can solve a singular figure such as Astros lefty Dallas Keuchel. (Shouldn't he be pitching for the Rangers, BTW? This is like a guy named Bronx pitching for the Mets.)

It also seems wrong that Wednesday the Pirates and Cubs, the teams with the second- and third-best records in baseball, will play one game in Pittsburgh to decide who gets to move on.

A best-of-three would make far more sense in competitive terms, but it also would create far more scheduling complications.

One intriguing option that has been proposed in the past: a best-of-three series that begins with a doubleheader to avoid burning too much calendar. Hmm. I kind of like that.

Relatively new commissioner Rob Manfred has said he is open to changing things. But he has said he is open to changing pretty much anything and everything, so that might not mean much.

For guidance we now turn to a person better known for his October expertise than I am: Reginald Martinez Jackson, who broke into the majors in 1967, when there was no such thing as divisions let alone wild-card teams.

He was standing near the batting cage Monday during the Yankees' pre-wild-card workout, so I asked him whether he thinks the current format is fair.

"It's very easy to say it's not fair," he said. "At the same time think of all that went into trying to create the one-game playoff. I'd like to see a three-game playoff. Better than that, five. But now you make all the other teams in baseball wait, and not play, and you move us back a week.

"We're trying to keep out of November. That puts us right into November, and some of the good teams that have won a hundred games, it's not fair to push them back a week or five days. They could get rusty and all of a sudden you come out and you get beat by the team that's been playing every day, a wild card.

"We've got football going on and that kind of stuff so trying to be fair with logistics, could you do a three-gamer? Maybe. But the first game is today [Monday], wherever you are. It starts here and we play two and then we play the last one in Houston and that takes you into starting Friday.

"They probably could do three games, but it's bam, bam, bam. What's it do to the pitching staffs? So what? You didn't play well enough to get a bye and that's who you are. So that could be a solution. But those are me thinking of variables that were included in the decision. I don't know all the variables."

Jackson's take on Tuesday night's game: "I hope we win." But win or lose, he believes the season has gone better than most expected.

Said Jackson, "As Joe Girardi said earlier, if I'd have told you in spring training that we're going to be in a one-game playoff, would you sign here now? Sure we would have."

It would have been even better to sign for a three-game series, with two games not started by Keuchel.

New York Sports