August 09, 2012

The One Game Playoff

The NL East title is out of reach by no means. In fact, with each passing week, my confidence in our team’s ability to track down the Nats and take over first place grows and grows.

However, there’s also a good chance that the Braves will wind up with one of the two NL wildcard spots, which means we just may face a one-game playoff. That’s scary, right? Our entire season could be decided by a single game. Of course we practically experienced that last season when we failed to win the final game of the season and missed the wildcard by one game. Were we to make that one-game playoff and lose, would it be any better than missing out on the playoffs last year? I don’t think so. Playing a solid regular season is something to take pride in, by being knocked out of the post-season after just a single game would be such a letdown.

On the other hand, winning the one-game playoff could be a big advantage for the following playoff series, because the winners of the wild card games will have home-field advantage for the first two games of the next series. Advancing in the playoffs after a single victory could give the team a momentum going into the division series, assuming you believe in the effects of momentum in baseball.

The NL wildcard race is a close one. Assuming the Braves don’t overtake the Nationals in the East, I believe there are five teams that we could end up facing in the one-game playoff.

Pittsburg: they currently hold the second wild card position and are only a few games back of Cincinnati. I think the Reds have what it takes to hold on to the division, but Pittsburg could play well enough to earn a wildcard berth. If available, AJ Burnett would be the starter. He’s got playoff experience to go along with his fourteen wins so far this year. Their offense, led by Andrew McCutchen, is not terrible, but they do rank in the bottom third in the MLB for average, OBP, and OPS. We haven’t played Pittsburgh since April when we took two out of three from them, including a win against Burnett who gave up three walks and two earned runs.

St. Louis: the Cards are behind Pittsburgh in the NL Central, but that could change in a flash. If we get matched up against St. Louis, I believe they would throw Kyle Lohse, who has a sub 3 ERA in 2012 and a 12-2 record. Cardinal relievers, however, have given up 136 runs this season. As a team, their offense leads the MLB in average and OBP, and rank third in OPS. Only the Texas Rangers have scored more runs in 2012. We’ve had the Cardinals’ number this season, taking five out of the six games against them, including a series sweep.

San Francisco: with the Dodgers close on their tails, I fully expect the Giants to lose their lead in the NL West by the end of the season. If we face San Fran in the one-game playoff, it’s not clear who would take the mound. It could be Lincecum, Matt Cain, or Madison Bumgarner. Even Barry Zito isn’t out of the question. Their rotation is deep, and their starter would likely depend on who is feeling healthiest and most rested. Their offense isn’t exactly formidable, but they do rank just below or above the Braves in most major offensive categories. We have just one win against the Giants in three games so far this season, but we play another series against them later this month. The last time we faced the Giants in the playoffs, the 2010 NLDS, is mostly bad memories.

Los Angeles: a few trade-deadline acquisitions really improved the quality of the Los Angeles club. The lineup is packed with offensive potential: Victorino, Kemp, Ethier, Hanley Ramirez, and James Loney. Clayton Kershaw may be the Dodgers’ best option for the one-game playoff. His 2.88 ERA leads LA starters, but he has accumulated six losses in his twenty-three games. We split a four-game series against the Dodgers back in April, and we play them again next weekend.

Arizona: the D-Backs will have to make up 6.5 games to fend off the other wildcard contenders, but I’m not counting them out. None of their pitchers have been stellar. Wade Miley leads the rotation with 12 wins and an ERA below 3.00. Following his 21-win season in 2011, Ian Kennedy is sporting an ERA above 4.00 and just a 10-8 record. Still, he might get the call if Arizona winds up in the one-game playoff. The D-Back offense ranks in the top ten for average, OBP, and OPS. Twice this year we’ve almost swept the D-Backs only to lose the series finale, including a loss to Ian Kennedy.

Out of these five teams, I feel most confident in our chances against Pittsburgh and Arizona. Because of their recent offensive editions, I believe the Dodgers would be the most difficult team to beat in a one-game playoff.

By the way, we’d have to throw Tim Hudson, right? What if he’s not available? Hanson? Ben Sheets? Our rotation has become so unpredictable.

I see why the MLB decided to add an extra wildcard team and the one-game playoff. It generates immediate excitement, like skipping the first four games of a playoff series and going right into the rubber match. Whether you are for or against this playoff system, you can’t deny that the one-game playoffs will be exciting.



11 Responses to “The One Game Playoff”

  1. 1
    Shaun Says:

    I’d be tempted to throw Sheets, if Hudson is not available. He’s really the one guy on the staff that I feel actually has a chance to dominate a game, perhaps even more so than Hudson because of Sheets’ strikeout potential.

  2. 2
    Bubdylan Says:

    I can’t deny that it’s exciting, but it’s still ridiculous. There’s just no way around it: you can not expect a single game to determine which of two baseball teams is better.

    To even try to grasp the absurdity, think of it this way: one game of baseball is equal to six tenths of one percent of the season. The NFL equivalent would be a playoff game that lasted 4 minutes and 41 seconds.

    And multiply that by this: how often does the worst NFL team beat the best NFL team? How about blow them out? But in baseball, the Astros beat the Dodgers 12-0 in a game this year.

    The reason a game seven is so exciting is because the two teams have pushed it to that point. You can’t flip straight to that point and assign it the same meaning any more than you can go straight to the 9th inning of one run game, stick some men on base, get a hit, and pretend it means the same thing as Sid’s slide.


    I really don’t hate the new format, simply because it awards (hypothetically anyway) the team that absolutely deserves and edge: the league’s very best team. But this one-game playoff business between what will some years be the second best team and the fifth best team is silly.

  3. 3
    Mike Says:

    Thanks for the comments, guys.

    @ Shaun- Sheets might be out best option for a must-win game. It depends on how he finishes out the season. I’m confident in Hudson, but if Sheets is lights out in Aug and Sept, it’d be hard to not give him the start.

    @ Bubdylan- You’re right about it being silly, and I like your illustration using the NLF equivalent. Although I get the reasoning for the one-game playoff, I wouldn’t be surprised if the wildcard round changes to a 3-game, or even a 5-game series in the near future.

  4. 4
    Walker Says:

    Bubdylan you hit it right on the head Brotha.

  5. 5
    Shaun Says:

    Also, Bubdylan, a wild card could be perhaps the second-best team in the league, if not all the majors. It’s kind of screwy that the second-best team could be forced in to a one-game playoff against possibly a far weaker team, while another inferior team gets a pass in that one-game round.

    I like that the best regular season team may gain an edge by facing a team with a worn-out pitching staff. I just wish regular season success was more rewarded. Instead MLB is rewarding teams that win weak divisions and punishing good teams that happen to play in strong divisions. Geography is a major factor in whether your team gets a bye.

  6. 6
    Bubdylan Says:

    Shaun, we’re in perfect agreement on #5.

  7. 7
    Jared Says:

    The second wild card added this year has created additional excitement. After play on Saturday(the 11th) 5 teams are within 1.5 games of each other in the A.L. wild card, and 4 teams are within 2.5 of each other in the N.L. However, I have to agree concerning the absurdity of putting so much on one game. I didn’t like the introduction of a wild card in the first place but now a second wild card slot!
    My reason for the absurdity of a wild card is a little different than Bubdylan’s. For a long time each league only had two divisions who played for the League Championship. If you go back far enough, there weren’t even divisions. The leaders of each league faced off in the series and that was it.

    Each game is a very small piece of the season, which is why consistency over such a long season should be rewarded. Consistency means less and less as the post-season format is changed to allow more teams into post-season play.(Read between the lines–Allow more owners to make more money) Now a sub-standard team that can’t play strong over the long haul can get on a hot streak and take the league championship.

    It would still be possible to reward season-long consistency with out allowing 2nd place teams the chance to ruin a division-leading team’s season of work. We could still have three divisions. In each league, the division winner with the best record would get a chance to rest while the other two division winners played a best-of-7 series to determine which will get to go on to the league championship series.

    However, Shaun makes a good point about the wild card being the second best team in the league(or possibly in both leagues). Right now the 2nd-place Braves and the 2nd-place Pirates both have a better record than the division-leading Giants. Perhaps we could setup a system of league playoffs that is not dependent on division winners. The division winners would still be determined simply by the team in the division that finishes with the best record. However, league championship playoff slots would be awarded to the 3 or 4 teams with the best record, even if that team finished 2nd or even 3rd due to playing in a more competitive division.

    By the way Mike, the Braves did not split a 4-game series with Los Angeles in April. They took 2 of a 3-game series. There was a 4-game home series that we split with the Pirates in April. (Which was surprising at the time because they were under .500 and the Braves were 12-7–and look where the Pirates are now.) Anyway, I think you got the Dodgers and Pirates series mixed up. I’m not trying to be a jerk, honest. I just pay extra attention to Dodger games since they are my former favorite team(I grew up in central California). I had the pleasure of rubbing it in my brothers face when the Braves won that series, and I have every intention of making a repeat performance after next weekend.

    With a chance to sweep the Mets on Sunday(12 Aug), then 4 against the Padres, and the Dodgers next weekend, I think it is possible for the Braves to win everyday until they head to DC. Then they better have their game on because that will be one of the few chances left to make up ground on the Nats. Go Braves!

  8. 8
    Mike Says:

    @Jared- you jerk! Just kidding, corrections are always welcome as I’m sure those won’t be my last slip-ups.

    I kind of like the idea of giving playoff spots to the top teams regardless of division. It seems like the fairest way to determine the playoffs, even if certain divisions wouldn’t have a single team make the postseason.

    We’ve got six more games against the Nats this season, and those are clearly the most important. And our final series of the regular season is against Pittsburgh. Those last three games could determine whether we win the division, win the wild card, or miss the playoffs all together.

  9. 9
    Carlos Collazo Says:

    I actually love the new wildcard format. Yeah it sucks that someone could get eliminated in one game but it makes it that much more important to try and win your division. That’s where the emphasis is in this new system. Also, you guys are saying that it’s not fair for the potential second best team to get eliminated so early… what about that team that missed the wildcard by half of a game and are in fact at the time, the best team in the league. The playoffs get much more exciting this way and there is nothing wrong with that in my opinion. I do understand the arguments against it however.

  10. 10
    Mike Says:

    @Carlos- I see your point, but in the current format the division winner has to play their first two playoff games on the road, which is pretty inconsistent with rewarding the division champs.

    This whole discussion reminds me of some olympic commentary I heard last week during the bronze medal game for mens indoor volleyball. The commentator said that one of the teams was clearly the best team in the field, even though they didn’t make it to the gold medal game. In my book, they didn’t win gold so they were not the best team. It’s easy to blame the system when the favorites lose.

  11. 11
    c terry Says:

    This is the most ridiculous idea anyone in sports has ever had. When you have a wildcard team 6 games up on the next best team relying on a ONE game contest to decide it’s post season future, you are robbing the fans and the integrity of the playoffs of a reasonable expectation of the best team winning. I am tempted to say to H-LL with pro sports all together. The league discision maskers SUCK and are simply greedy for a little extra TV revenue.

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