From Cashman, a thought on the new Wild Card


Over the next few days, perhaps even before Thanksgiving, Major League Baseball and the MLBPA will announce a new labor agreement that will change the shape of the game. We know the new deal will have HGH testing and new compensation rules, and the extra Wild Card team has been an open secret for the better part of a year. In this space, Joe wrote about the balanced leagues a few days ago.

This weekend, Brian Cashman spoke with The Wall Street Journal about the new playoff format, and he made it exceedingly clear that the Yankees recognize the inherent randomness of the playoffs. A one-game, winner-makes-the-ALDS format just drives home the point. “You do not want to be a wild card,” Cashman said to Dan Barbarisi. “The only way you want to be a wild card is if you’re not going to make the playoffs. You definitely want to win the division now.”

It is, of course, an obvious point, and we can highlight the 2001 season in which the 102-win A’s would have played the 85-win Twins in a one-game set for the right to make the Division Series as the perfect example. The Twins could have unseated a team 17 games better than they were. So the Yankees, the team with the most division titles since the advent of the three-division league, will maintain that singular focus on the AL East crown. With a new playoff format, it becomes ever more important to reach that still-infuriating best-of-five set. No one wants to lose Game 163 against an inferior team.

Categories : Asides, Playoffs
  • Jesse

    “No one wants to lose Game 163 against an inferior team.”

    Correction: “No one wants to lose Game 163.”

    Fixed. But I get the idea. At first I liked the new Wild Card plan, but thinking about it more and more I kinda don’t like it. Theoretically if you have to play the Game 163 you’ll be using your ace. So even if you win game 163 you’ll go into the DS without your horse for Game 1, and you’re on the road to boot.

    • RetroRob

      Correct, but that’s why it’s a good thing. Don’t be a wild card team. Win your division.

      • mbonzo

        Its true but it seems silly to play 162 games just for it to come down to 1 game with 2 teams that’ll probably have different records.

        • RetroRob

          Oh, I do understand why it’s flawed. I just can’t get too worked up about it since I viewed the prior system equally, and maybe even more flawed.

          One thing I’m sure of is it will change the way teams structure themselves. We saw that with the Wild Card. Not immediately, but as time went on. We’re going to see it again.

          • the Other Steve S.

            Or, we could go back to league standings with no playoffs at all. Then the team with the best record goes to the WS. Play a balanced schedule, no luck, no crybabying.

            • Ted Nelson

              Neither the owners nor the players are likely to agree to wipe out all non-WS playoff revenues. And I doubt many fans want to wipe out the playoff excitement, either.

          • Ted Nelson

            How was the prior system more flawed?

            • BJ

              Not saying I necessarily agree with it, but the arguement would be that the old system did not penalize the wild card team enough, giving no incentive to winning the division.
              Forcing a division winner to play a luck driven 5 game series to advance, with homefield advantage their only prize for their efforts in the regular season, is also unfair. In the new way the wild card is down to about a 60% chance to make the division series and as was said before they probably burn their ace… To say that the new system is unfair you have to believe that the fourth team to qualify for the playoffs deserves a full share berth in the playoffs while the fifth team in line to qualify deserves a zero share.
              I think the wild card should get some penalization, but perhaps this swing is too far the other way. We’ll see. I do think the A’s arguement is a bit of a straw man as you had to go back 10 years and there typically isn’t that big of a discrepancy.

            • BJ

              Not saying I necessarily agree with it, but the arguement would be that the old system did not penalize the wild card team enough, giving no incentive to winning the division.
              Forcing a division winner to play a luck driven 5 game series to advance, with homefield advantage their only prize for their efforts in the regular season, is also unfair. In the new way the wild card is down to about a 60% chance to make the division series and as was said before they probably burn their ace… To say that the new system is unfair you have to believe that the fourth team to qualify for the playoffs deserves a full share berth in the playoffs while the fifth team in line to qualify deserves a zero share.

  •!/EricDKoch Eric

    Days later I am still pretty infuriated with the one-game play in. The thought that they will play an unbalanced schedule and then reward the 5th best team (at best) with a chance to unseat possibly the second best team (at best) in a one-game do-or-die is madness.

    If they want to do this, they should just do away with the divisions, play a balanced schedule and have the top 5 teams make the playoffs with 4 and 5 playing the play-in. The divisions are a relic of when traveling and scheduling were more difficult anyway. If you want to do this you have to make it as fair as possible and right now it is not. I’m sure there will be some “Omg what a game!” moments because of it, but you’re tossing out the meaning of 162 and that is just unfair.

  • RetroRob

    I could also add that no one wants to lose a best-of-five series against an inferior team, as happened twice this season.

    Once the division format began in 1969, and then the Wild Card started in 1995, inferior teams have been making the playoffs reguarly and even, gasp, winning the World Series. The additional Wild Card team will simply add to this situation. It’s all in the name of “competitive balance.”

    • dc1874

      1973 Mets…82-79 record and went to the World Series!!!

      • Genghis

        True, but it’s never the best team over the entire season that wins in the playoffs, it’s the best team at the END of the season. The Mets, for example, had terrible injuries most of the season, but were healthy for the playoffs– they actually were a much better team than their record showed. The Yankees in 2011 are another example– Colon was their #2 starter most of the season, but was gone by the playoffs– huge loss, making the Yankees less than the best team at the dn.

        • Genghis

          the end of that should have been “at the end.” Siri, memo to self: never try to dash off an entry on the way out the door to work. :)

    • Ted Nelson

      Winnings 3 of 5 and winning 1 of 1 are not the same thing…

  • Kiko Jones

    You do not want to be a wild card…The only way you want to be a wild card is if you’re not going to make the playoffs. You definitely want to win the division now.”

    Precisely. Since the WC rewarded entry into the playoffs to a team that failed to take their division at least there will be some sort of extra obstacle to getting in that easily. Is it unfair to have your season end over one game? Of course. But it makes winning your division a bit more valuable.

    But w/ the 15 team leagues, constant interleague play—in addition to the scheduled games in that regard, plus every Friday, Saturday, Sunday, as well as Opening Day and the last game of the season—is just…ugh.

    • hogsmog

      But ‘failed to take the division’ could mean, and has meant in the past (especially in the AL east), ‘failed to have the best record in the league, only getting second’.

      And that is just dumb. The best teams should make the playoffs, period. It’s silly enough that solid contenders like Toronto (or for that matter, whoever’s getting third in the AL east) get shut out of the postseason, and this just makes it worse.

      • AndrewYF

        Actually, this gives Toronto a great chance at making the playoffs.

        Yes, getting rid of the importance of divisions entirely would be the most fair, but it would cost MLB money, because then division rivalries would be completely meaningless. So, it’s never going to happen.

        • Ted Nelson

          Players would also have to spend more time travelling, and might ask for something in return.

          I also agree it would give Toronto (for example) more of a chance at the playoffs.

        • Cris Pengiucci

          division rivalries would be completely meaningless.

          While the division rivalries could have less importance, that fact that you don’t play your divisional foes so frequently could actually make the games more interesting for some fans. Playing the Red Sox 18 games a season tends to get a bit old.

          I agree with you that it won’t go away due to the potential revenue loss, but don’t think it’ll make divisional rivalries meaningless.

  • mustang

    “You definitely want to win the division now.”

    The way it was and the way the game was meant to be.

    I like the wild card and now I like it even better. No longer do I have to here “its ok we have the wild card so no need to push it”.

    Once again the division title has meaning.


    • Ted Nelson

      “the way the game was meant to be.”

      According to?

      You can now be the 2nd best team in your league and get eliminated from the playoffs in a single game by the 5th best team in your league…

      • toad

        Yes, you can. But for most of baseball history the second best team in the league just went home after the regular season.

        • mustang


  • Juke Early

    Why would the so called CEO of MLB & his cronies want to devalue sports greatest franchise? so they can make more money to put in their pockets & NOT on the field. Then sit back & complain about the Yankees whenever they’ll be fortunate enough to win another WS.

    If it wasn’t for the courage & sacrifice of Curt Flood, those clowns would still be paying players 10K a year, with no chance to improve by finding a new team. Meanwhile Selig pays himself 20 million annually. To do what? to screw with the Yankees apparently.

    • mustang

      Oh! Please with a 200 million dollar payroll and all their resources the Yankees are just fine. Even with all the things that Selig and Co may have put in front them the Yankees juggernaut is actually that. This is more about making the division worth something while adding a bit more fun and some extra dollars to the bottom-line.
      So let them cry when the Yankees win and cheer when they lose. The hate only makes winning that much sweeter.

      • mustang

        Baseball’s World Series:

        2011 – St. Louis Cardinals 4, Texas Rangers 3

        2010 – San Francisco Giants 4, Texas Rangers 1

        2009 – New York Yankees 4, Philadelphia Phillies 2

        2008 – Philadelphia Phillies 4, Tampa Bay Rays 1

        2007 – Boston Red Sox 4, Colorado Rockies 0

        2006 – St. Louis Cardinals 4, Detroit Tigers 1

        2005 – Chicago White Sox 4, Houston Astros 0

        2004 – Boston Red Sox 4, St. Louis Cardinals 0

        2003 – Florida Marlins 4, New York Yankees 2

        2002 – Anaheim Angels 4, San Francisco Giants 3

        2001 – Arizona Diamondbacks 4, New York Yankees 3

        2000 – New York Yankees 4, New York Mets 1

        1999 – New York Yankees 4, Atlanta Braves 0

        1998 – New York Yankees 4, San Diego Padres 0

        1997 – Florida Marlins 4, Cleveland Indians 3

        1996 – New York Yankees 4, Atlanta Braves 2

        1995 – Atlanta Braves 4, Cleveland Indians 2

        Yes the wild card has really screw the Yankees.

        • mustang

          That’s 7 times in 17 WS with 5 wins and 3 in a row.

          Its just killing them.

    • Ted Nelson


  • chris

    How many times do the Yankees, Red Sox and Rays have to win in the same year for MLB to decide this format is no good either?

  • Yazman

    This also adds incentive to have the best record, assuming you’ll play the wildcard with their spent ace.

  • mt

    I want to hate this set-up but I can’t get too worked up about it – basically it allows baseball to return to its pre Divsional Series days when you made playoffs only if you won the division (there were instances in the two division set-up prior to 1994, especially in NL West in 1993 with Braves and Giants when SF won 103 and did not make playoffs) BUT also maintaining more teams in the playoffs to maximize contenders’ revenue at the end of the season (i.e, under no circumstances was baseball returning to two playoff teams per league).

    So these new wild card teams have a better shot, although a small one, than second place teams in baseball history up until 1993 but all of a sudden it supposed to be such a disgrace in terms of “fairness” to these teams?

    I can’t get too worked up about the 102 win wild card team against the 85 win wild card team scenario in the one game playoffs – over 162 games you avoid that sceanrio by winning the divsion and if you don’t, at least then you then have a small shot, as opposed to the no shot you would have had in the 70s, to win World Series.

    I know people see this as hurting the Yankees – (what if Boston wins 100 we win 98 and we have to play Tampa or Angels with 89 wins) but I see a small silver lining.

    One problem I have had with Joe Girardi is that other managers seem to manage with more urgency in the playoffs in terms of lineups and who is having the hot hand. (i.e, Matt Holliday can sit certain games during playoffs but ARod can’t; keep putting Swisher out there, etc.) I found the Swisher argument so unnecessarily black and white – he needed to be dumped or he needed to be kept because playoffs are a small sample size. What about moving him in lineup or sitting him for a game(s)? This presumes you have a better alternative, of course but playoffs (hello, Allen Craig) also show that stars do not always have to be the one to help your team in playoffs.

    Which leads me to a second point – it will probably lead to more deadline trades because teams fighting it out in tough divsions will try to fix even realtively minor holes (like our line-ups relative weakness against righthanded as opposed to left handed pitchers; getting more starting pitching) to give best shot at winning division.

    Yankees way of coasting and getting everyone healthy during last month of season has not worked in last two years if you see that as preparation for playoffs so maybe having to put pedal to metal will lead to different results (last year was kind of an outlier since Boston had the historic Collapse) but given the Yankee/Red Sox high talent levels and payrolls, and mixing in the improving Blue Jays and Rays, I can’t see a lot of seven game leads in AL EAST in last week.

    Or on other hand, I can see an alternate scenario, if you seem pretty set for the wildcard but with no chance to win divsion maybe you do not do trades since ultimately your season will come down to one game randomness.

    I do not necessarily like one game playoff but I also have had a nagging sense of discomfort when Wild Card teams have been winning with such frequency. Now if they can just make DS seven games and eliminate All Star game from deciding home field advantage that would more truly reward the divsional winners and teams with best records.

    • The Fallen Phoenix

      I don’t see how regression back to pre-Wild Card problems (i.e., really good teams failing to make the playoffs simply because they had the ill-fortune of sharing a division with a powerhouse) can be seen as a good thing.

      One of the positive features of the Wild Card was that your 2001 Oakland A’s aren’t getting shut out of the playoffs. Now we’re regressing to a system where that can be possible again, all to preserve an otherwise antiquated device (divisions)? That’s stupid.

    • Ted Nelson

      “basically it allows baseball to return to its pre Divsional Series days when you made playoffs only if you won the division”

      Where the 5th-11th best team in the league can walk into the playoffs and the 2nd best team in the league can miss the playoffs completely!!!!! Hooray!!!!!

    • Steve (different one)

      FWIW, Girardi did sit Swisher in the 2009 WS.

  • dan l

    If they allow the team to pick a roster for just that game then it will be a bullpen game for the most part.

    • Ted Nelson

      I would say that it depends on your roster. If you have a Justin Verlander lined up to start that game, you’re probably hoping for a complete game shutout.

  • John

    I love it. Now the season will be that much more exciting. Some years you knew from the get-go that the Yankees had a pretty good chance of at least being the wild card. Now it will be a fight until the end.

    In sports, fairness is the least of my concerns. The show is what it’s all about for me. I understand that people may not agree with me on this.

    • Ted Nelson

      Yeah, this is a good argument for the new system. The counter-argument is that the regular season might be more exciting at the expense of the playoffs, which may not feature inferior teams.

      • John

        I would take an exciting 162 game season over less but still exciting playoffs anytime. I’m speaking for myself (since I began following the Yankees in ~2002) but most years I don’t really care if the Yankees lose a game or some games in a row because I know that they will still probably at least win the wild card. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t like seeing them lose but I just don’t see how it matters. At the All-Star break this year, the Yankees had a 92% chance of making the playoffs but only a 50% chance of winning the division (coolstandings).

        Like I said, I started watching them in 2002 so I didn’t live through the Dark Ages. Still, I don’t see how the current Yankee organization could go back to that. The team is likely to remain very competitive in the foreseeable future.

        I would prefer that 50% chance at the break and see them lose in Game 163 than watching more or less worthless games from the break on with that 92% and see them make it to the Division Series.

  • Matt :: Sec110

    drop it to 150-155 games, and make the divisional round 7 games.

    • toad

      I think the crap-shoot nature of a five game series as opposed to a seven game series is overrated. The difference really isn’t huge.

  • thenamestsam

    I’m guessing that a lot of the people that are all gung-ho for this system will feel differently after the first time a 3rd place team wins the world series. I just can’t get over the fact that one of these years a team that finished as close to the bottom of their division as to the top is going to be the champion.

    • Mike R.

      Will you be singing the same tune if the Yankees are that third place team?

      More parody is fine, especially in the flawed MLB structure.

      • Mike R.


        • deadrody

          I think “parody” works just fine in that context.

  • Darren

    Baseball is random, sports are random, life is random.

    Just because you were excellent over the course of a 162 game season doesn’t mean you get to take home the ring. Sometimes you have to be lucky (thanks Phil Cuzzi’s blindness), but you always have to be good (Hello Mr. Mastui, hello Mr. Rivera).

    It’s stupid to say that it’s “unfair” if the tenth best team gets in to the playoffs and beats the second best team. So what? At that moment in time, the best team is the team that wins that game.

    If you don’t want to have to be at the mercy of a one game play in, win your division. How is life more unfair now then in pre-division era baseball? I dont get it.

    • Mike R.

      The point of baseball is to win the World Series. The regular season is just a means of getting to the playoffs

      People can point to good ol’ times when it was just the top two teams record-wise, but then you can just say that 7 games isn’t enough to determine who’s the better team in that case either. It will just lead down the path of abolishing the playoffs completely, which is a ridiculous but understandable position for fellow Yankee fans to take.

      So I agree with you.

    • deadrody

      Except, there is a reason you use a best-of format in baseball. There are at least 3 relevant starting pitchers, and an entire bullpen full of pitchers. It seems particularly relevant when trying to crown a champion, that the majority of your roster – if not all of it – would be tested in the process.

      Intentionally boiling two team’s seasons down to a single game runs completely contradictory to the very reason baseball uses a playoff series format. I don’t really care if its “fair”. Problem is, its stupid.

  • deadrody

    BTW, I’d like this better if, rather than confining it to the “wild card” teams, the one game playoff was between the two teams with the two worst records.

    You won your division ? yippee. Too bad your division sucks and you have the second worst playoff record. Off to the one game playoff for you.