Friday, September 14, 2012

Backing into Playoffs would not be Cool

When Major League Baseball expanded the playoffs to four teams in each league in 1994, the idea was to keep more teams in the hunt for a post-season birth later in the regular season.  This keeps more fans interested in baseball into August and September which makes more money for the game.  The additional playoff teams have been so lucrative for the game that they have added another team in each league to the post-season picture this year. 

The current divisional and playoff qualifying structure is an advantage to the Tigers this year as their mediocre 75-67 record (.528 winning percentage) puts them just one game behind the division-leading White Sox.  If they don't feel like a playoff team to you though, it's because few teams have won so infrequently and still made the post-season.
Since 1903, the first year of the World Series, there have been 366 teams to make post-season including 128 in the expanded playoff era.  Of those teams, only eight have had a worse winning percentage than the Tigers have right now, five since the creation of the augmented post-season.

The Tigers lack of winning in the regular season should not affect their quest for a world championship if they do make playoffs.  Detroit fans should know more than anyone by now that the playoffs are largely a crapshoot.    After all, three of the eight playoff teams with worse records than the Tigers have currently went on to win the World Series.  You probably know two of them painfully well - the 1987 Twins and the 2006 Cardinals.  The other was the Miracle Mets of 1969, winners of just 82 regular season games.

In case you haven't noticed, the Tigers also have only the eighth best record in the American League.  The White Sox have the seventh best.    How many teams ever made the playoffs with the seventh best record in the league or worse?  Only the 2005 Padres and the 2008 Dodgers.  The lowest ranked AL team was the 1984 Royals who had the sixth most wins in the AL.

The way things are going now for the Tigers would be the very definition of backing into the playoffs. I know many fans don't care how the Tigers get in as long as they make it.  Personally, I do care about the regular season a lot and having the seventh best record in the league would take away from the satisfaction of a division title.  It would be OK if they were a cinderella team like the 1969 Mets or this year's Orioles, but not for a team that had been billed as the juggernaut of the AL before the season started.

I'll certainly root for a World Series win if the Tigers get there.  World championships are always fun and we don't get to celebrate them too often.  However, a championship coupled with a great regular season is even better.  In 1984, there was no question who the best team in baseball was.  The Tigers were the undisputed champions.  The 1987 Twins and 2006 Cardinals on the other hand...well, it was great for their fans that they won, but they are forever used as examples of teams that backed into the playoffs and then got hot at the right time.  And it will be even worse if the Tigers make it with 85 wins and get bounced in the first round.

So, not only do I want the Tigers to win the division, I want them to finish strong enough so it doesn't feel like luck.  With 16 of their last 20 games versus teams with losing records, the schedule is certainly in their favor.  So, here's hoping they close out the regular season like champions and finish with 88-90 wins and a convincing division title. 

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