Three strikes and you’re out… of home games: The inequity of Major League Baseball’s new but not improved post-season format

The Tampa Bay Rays post-season came and went.  If you blinked, you missed it.

For their efforts, a fairly successful regular season in which they went 86-76, the Rays earned a wild card berth, just not a prime-time game (small market teams don’t get those) nor a home game (in the new playoff format, they don’t get those either).

As someone who no longer watches baseball with the fervor they once did when the sport was still our national pastime, I recently learned that this year, Major League Baseball has revamped its playoffs yet again.  In an era where every organized sport, from the NFL to the NBA to college football, is expanding its post-season in search of the perfect (i.e., most lucrative) format, Major League Baseball has joined the club.  Welcome to the party, pal.  Unfortunately, you’re a little late. 

For those of you not paying attention, which is most of you according to the latest Nielsen ratings, twelve teams now make Major League Baseball’s post-season, six from the American League and six from the National, with the top two teams from each league receiving a bye.  The opening round of the playoffs pits the top two wild cards against each other, along with a third wild card team that plays the division winner with the worst record.  Those teams in the first round play a best two-out-of-three game series in which the lower-seeded, wild card team does not receive a single home game.

If you’re confused by all this, I promise you’re not alone.  In what can only be an effort to attract more viewers, and more revenue, the sport we all grew up with has once again found a way to achieve imperfection.  I may sound bitter because my hometown team failed to show up offensively, scoring only one run in 24 innings of baseball, their post-season over in less than 36 hours, yet I can’t help but feel they were punished for making the playoffs.

Hear me out.

The Tampa Bay Rays reached the post-season as this year’s third AL wild card.  They finished ten games over .500, which was good for third in their division.  For their efforts, they played the Cleveland Guardians, who were the American League division winner with the worst record.  The division winners with the best records, New York and Houston, received first round byes.  The other two wild card teams, Toronto and Seattle, played each other with the lower seed in that series also not receiving a home game.

Interestingly enough, the road team in that matchup advanced.  The second-seeded Seattle Mariners (90-72) took two games in Toronto, suggesting for a moment that my argument might not hold water, but I beg to differ. 

One can make a viable claim that home field advantage means little with regards to the outcome of a game, that the better team over time will win regardless of where they play.  As usual, the Rays’ bats tightened, their offensively-feeble, October lineup managing only one run in two games.  One of those games went fifteen innings, but this isn’t about them failing to show up yet again.  This is more about injecting revenue into these communities and giving a team’s fan base the opportunity to cheer on their home team. 

I understand that travel in a short series is problematic, that Major League Baseball wants to get to the meat of their playoffs as quickly as possible.  But this format gives an unfair financial advantage to the teams that might have had a better record by only a single game.  Not allowing for a home game in a playoff series when multiple games are played is absurd.

If you don’t like the 1 (home) – 2 (away) format, expand the series.  If you don’t want your post-season running into November, shorten the regular season.  Your record books are a sham anyway so what’s wrong with cutting the regular season back down to 154 games or less.  Baseball owners’ eyes must have lit up when they saw other sports increase their earnings through post-season expansion but why not share that wealth amongst all playoffs teams by allowing their cities to thrive, even if only for a night. 

The Rays’ struggling with attendance is nothing new.  Tampa Bay’s turnstiles once again ranked 28th out of 30 teams, yet their playoff attendance is through the roof.  This team has made the post-season consistently on a limited budget with young players who don’t yet realize they should be getting rewarded far more handsomely for their efforts.  To not give them the opportunity to play a post-season game in front of their fans is as inequitable as the sport itself.

When discussing this new format, I can’t help but whether wonder anyone suggested excluding a home game for four of the teams in the post-season wasn’t ideal.  Lower seeded NFL teams aren’t awarded home games but that’s a one and done sport.  NBA play-in games are just that, single games.  A playoff “series” implies multiple games and both teams should be awarded the opportunity to play at home, if for nothing else to allow the part-time beer vendors the opportunity for a paycheck and one last climb up the stadium stairs. 

Giving the fans one last chance to cheer on the home team isn’t all that bad of an idea either.

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4 Replies to “Three strikes and you’re out… of home games: The inequity of Major League Baseball’s new but not improved post-season format”

  1. I don’t agree. Under the previous format, the Rays would not have gotten in at all, and had they been the second wild card team, would have played one game…on the road.
    Three games is more fair, all it takes is facing one hot pitcher to end a great season. I know this all too well as my 88 win 2014 Pirates were eliminated by Bumgarner, and my 98 win Pirates were eliminated by Arrieta, albeit at home both times.
    I don’t think that it’s practical to have travel in the WC round. The teams who win a division, or get the first wild card, should be rewarded with home games.

  2. Bill…

    Had the Rays won an opening round game, the Cleveland Guardians would have ended up playing THREE games at home to the Rays none.

    In their following three-out-of-five game series against the Yankees, Cleveland will play a maximum TWO games at home.

    Where is the logic in that?

    I agree that travel is an issue, but it shouldn’t be an excuse.

    I’m not sure what I’m complaining about. It’s not like this team is going to be in Tampa for much longer anyway.

  3. Again, baseball opinions from non-baseball fans. First of all, the the previous commenter has it right…last year, nobody would have been subjected to this sorry-ass team in October.

    But here’s where you really missed the ball. The two wild-card team that have to go on the road for that three-game series got rewarded by getting into the play-off in the first place. You’re in, but now you have to win two games on the road. That’s a theme for pretty much any play-off series…at some point, you have to win on the road (kinda like the artist formerly known as the Indians did yesterday). Very, very few series end with the home team winning every game.

    So, in other words be happy you got a chance to lose in October, because the Rays really didn’t deserve it, and they proved that by losing to easily the most-offensively challenged team in the play-offs.

    The bottom line is coffee is for closers, and home field is for winners. Want home games in October? Be better than barely .500. It’s not like both the Blue Jays and Yankees didn’t give the Rays big chunks of the summer to pass either one of them.

    Not to mention, am I the only one who noticed the Rays were the only road team in the Wild Card round who putted short of the cup? You did mention the M’s taking two in Toronto…but you conveniently overlooked they had to mount a major comeback to do it. Similarly, you also failed to note the Phils winning twice in St. Louis and the Padres dispatching the Mets in New York. On top of that, the M’s are the only team who hasn’t notched a road win in the division series yet.

    The fact is the Rays didn’t deliver when it mattered, which is why they will be taking tee times away from you this October. Don’t think playing in front of 11,000 pseudo-fans in that inverted Jello mold you call a stadium would have made a difference.

  4. For years, Dubs, college football refused to expand the number of its playoff teams, the argument being it would diminish the importance of the regular season. You and I both know it’s because no one devised a game plan to make them enough money by expanding. Now that they’ve figured that out, we have 12 teams and every critic that was pro-expansion no longer griping that the regular season’s importance has been belittled.

    If the Rays didn’t deserve to be there as the final wild card, at ten games over .500, then fuck ’em and shorten the playoffs back to only ten teams. If teams are bad, or even mediocre, then don’t reward them.

    Keep in mind, I wasn’t suggesting that the TEAM deserved a home playoff game but rather the city that houses them.

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