A sensible way to un-saturate the MLB postseason

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(Photo by Cooper Neill/MLB Photos via Getty Images)

Too many thrills watching the fight for… second place? Too many MLB postseason games? Here’s a sensible re-alignment suggestion.

Over 23 million people watched Game Seven of the 2019 World Series, perhaps heartened by the surreal resilience of the Washington Nationals against the burdens of their city’s baseball history and the Houston Astros alike. (That was then: “Washington—First in war, first in peace, and last in the American League.” This is now: “Washington—First in war, first in peace, and first in Show.)

Like the Nats’ host city does almost by nature, the Astros are now seen as a compromised giant. But Game Seven’s impressive-looking television viewership merely softened the blow of it having been the least-viewed Game Seven on record. Which gives me a pleasant excuse to argue once again on behalf of something I’ve argued before: the pennant races and the MLB postseason alike are bedeviled by a blend of dilution and saturation.

Dilution because the races are compromised. Saturation because there are too many more games than absolutely necessary to determine World Series combatants, and because the World Series itself has had its primacy undermined.

For long enough baseball’s government has gazed upon other sports leagues and decided, well, those leagues are surging in popularity so it’s obvious that baseball’s in big trouble—let’s fix what’s not broken, instead of worrying about what might be broken.

During the 1990s, so help me God you could have sworn baseball’s attitude taking that direction and others amounted to, Baseball sucks. Bring the wife and kids! So, on behalf of baseball not sucking anymore, the Lords of Baseball decided, well, the NFL and the NBA and even the NHL are doing boffo business with those protracted postseasons of theirs, so we’d better get in on it before we lose the plot entirely.

Except that baseball lost the plots going that way. The plot of the good, long, summer season, and championship plot, that is. From the moment baseball decided it needed wild cards rather than sensible divisional re-alignment, as often as not and more often than healthy we’ve been living all the thrills and chills of sitting on the edges of our seats waiting to see who’d end up . . . in second place, and with the best shot at a wild card postseason entry.

The good news is that even baseball’s shortsighted lordships haven’t sent the game toward the truly ridiculous extremes of basketball and hockey postseasons. Last year, sixteen teams each in the thirty-team NBA and thirty-one team NHL opened the playoffs. Ten of thirty baseball teams including the wild card teams open a postseason. It’s still far too much, and the MLB postseason itself is still too saturating.

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