Before anything else, I want to air my grievances about baseball's current playoff system. I want to do it now, on Monday morning, because I don't want to spend the next two days complaining about this and because, whatever happens tomorrow night, I don't want to linger on Bud Selig and his quest to make compelling television rather than determine the best baseball team via some kind of reasonably fair system.
Here's the thing: forcing a one-game playoff between two teams that did not finish with the same record is incredibly unfair and it's against everything that baseball is supposed to be. Baseball teams play 162 games for a reason — it's because that's a lot of baseball games and at the end of 162 games, the record speaks for itself. The Pirates and Reds played 19 times this year and the Pirates won 11 of those games. The Pirates and Reds played five meaningful games in the last ten days of the season and the Pirates won three of those games. One week ago, the Pirates and Reds had the same record and an outside shot at winning the NL Central with the same basic schedule of three games against a bad team and three against each other. The Pirates went 5-1, the Reds went 1-5.
My gripes with this system aren't new, but since the Pirates are involved let's hash it out one more time. Essentially, the second wild card and the play-in game gives the Reds a back door into the playoffs. The Reds had 162 games to prove that they were better than the Pirates, and they won four fewer games than the Pirates. They're a really good, really talented baseball team capable of beating anyone in a short series or a one-game playoff, though, and so what this wild card does is it basically says, "94 wins or 90 wins, the Reds and Pirates are the same." That's opposed to the reality of the season, and it makes all of those hard-fought, close wins seem meaningless. The Pirates won 94 games and they'd be in almost exactly the same spot right now if they'd only won 87.
Of course, this sort of talk is a waste of time. Baseball instituted the wild card because it wanted to recapture the lightning-in-a-bottle feeling of the end of the 2011 season, and Bud Selig has exactly what he wanted. Instead of a long battle of attrition ending in a meaningful payoff like the one that played out between the Pirates and Reds or the Indians, Rangers, and Rays over the season's final couple of weeks, there will be three straight days of Made For TV one-game eliminations. Justice is sacrificed for drama. That's the baseball universe that we live in, but I don't have to like it.
In any case, I'm posting this on Monday morning, because I don't want this to go up after the game and have it be sour grapes, and I suppose that even now it can read like someone equivocating based on an uncertain future. Baseball says that if you don't win your division, you and your closest competitor had equal seasons and that's the reality that the Pirates have to deal with. Either they'll win tomorrow, or the season will end early. Fair or unfair is academic at this point. It all is what it is.