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A proposal to fix the MLB playoff system

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Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

I've tried to avoid commenting too much on MLB's playoff system this year, because it sounds like sour grapes when a Pirates fan pipes up only when his team is about to be treated unfairly. It's obvious that the current system is unfair, though, and forcing the second best team in the league to coin-flip with the third best team for the right to even get a full series is perverse. If the standings stay as they are, the Pirates are Cubs will be penalized twice -- once for having to play in the same division with each other and with the Cardinals, and then again by getting less favorable treatment than division winners who earned fewer wins against easier competition. The Cardinals, too, will be doubly penalized, once by being in a division with the Pirates and Cubs and then again by having to play one of those teams in the NLDS.

That said, it probably wouldn't do much good to go crazy proposing changes to the current system. MLB is more likely to make small changes rather than large ones. I assume, for example, that the one-game playoff isn't going away. The amazing environment the Pirates and their fans created in the 2013 Wild Card game shows why -- one-game playoffs are really exciting. MLB probably isn't going to abandon divisions, either.

Perhaps the solution, then, is to simply make the worst playoff teams participate in the one-game playoff. From a Cardinals fan at Viva El Birdos:

Make the bottom two seeded playoff teams face each other in the Wild Card game, except the second Wild Card always has to play in the sudden death game.

Today, that would give us the Mets vs. the Cubs in the play-in game, then the Cards face the winner in the NLDS. The other NLDS would be the Pirates vs. the Dodgers.

Seems better, doesn’t it? You get an exciting NLDS between the second- and third-seeded teams, and the top-seeded team gets an appropriately easier path. The best teams in the league are likely to face each other in the NLCS instead of the NLDS. [Weak] division winners don’t get a free pass.

That sounds great, but I'd go even further and just say the three playoff teams with the best records should get the top three seeds, and the bottom two (whether they're division winners or not) should have to play in the one-game playoff and then face the top seed if they win.

Such an arrangement would preserve MLB's interest in meaningful division races. It would admittedly make some division races, like that of the NL Central, somewhat less interesting, but with top seeds and home field advantage on the line, the teams involved would still have plenty to play for. This system also wouldn't further penalize strong teams who already had the misfortune of playing in a tough division. Here's how such an arrangement would look if the season ended today:

NL Wild Card game: (5) Mets vs. (4) Dodgers
NLDS: Mets/Dodgers vs. (1) Cardinals; (3) Cubs vs. (2) Pirates

AL Wild Card game: (5) Rangers vs. (4) Astros
ALDS: Rangers/Astros vs. (1) Royals; (3) Yankees vs. (2) Blue Jays

The Mets, Dodgers and Astros wouldn't be thrilled about this. But it's a better, fairer system that should keep the best teams in the playoffs longer.