MLB’s wildcard round is almost as fun as the NCAA tournament
Major League Baseball’s wildcard round came and went so fast last week, that you could barely keep up with it.
But I tried, boy did I try. I couldn’t watch all of the games, but there were four of them on Tuesday and another four on Wednesday. There were games on during the day. There were games on at night. There were games on ESPN. There were even games on ABC.
In the American League, the Tampa Rays hosted the Texas Rangers in a best-of-three series at Tropicana Field, while the Minnesota Twins, champions of the American League Central Division, welcomed the Toronto Blue Jays to Target Field for some best-of-three action. Meanwhile, over in the National League, the Philadelphia Phillies took on the Miami Marlins at Citizens Bank Park, and the Milwaukee Brewers, champions of the National League Central Division, hosted the Arizona Diamondbacks at American Family Field.
Eight games. Two days. Lots of fun.
Unfortunately, no series went the distance, but it was still exciting to watch it all unfold over a 48-hour period. It felt like fastbreak baseball. In many ways, it reminded me of the first round of the NCAA tournament, when college basketball can be seen from noon until after midnight on both Thursday and Friday. People take vacation days for that. Kids pretend to be sick so they can stay home from school. Adults do the same so they can get out of work. It’s one of the best weeks on the sports calendar.
I gotta tell ya’, it’s been a long time since I’ve been this intrigued by baseball. I was equally fascinated last year, the first season of the best-of-three wildcard round. I believe adding a third wildcard team to each league, along with making the round a best-of-three series, was one of the most effective things MLB has done in years when it comes to fan engagement.
Sure, the pitch clock that was added in 2023 worked to make games go by faster. The new shift rule, along with making the bases slightly bigger, made for some more exciting in-game action that didn’t involve home runs and strikeouts. But the new wildcard format will ultimately go a long way toward making MLB’s postseason must-see-tv; that’s something it really hasn’t been for quite a while, as evidenced by the decline in ratings and attendance in recent years.
Fans want to think that they’re a part of it, and it’s so much harder for those who support teams in smaller markets to feel that way on a regular basis. But if you look at the wildcard round, Minnesota, Milwaukee and Tampa were involved. Two of them were division champions, sure, but the Rays, winners of 99 regular-season games (the third-best record in baseball), got to host a series despite finishing second in the American League Eastern Division. True, the fourth-seeded Rays got swept by Texas, but at least they had more than one game to plead their case.
Two lower seeds advanced, and a division winner was knocked out of the mix–in addition to the Rangers advancing as the fifth seed in the American League, the sixth-seeded Diamondbacks swept third-seeded Milwaukee in the National League.
It remains to be seen which teams will make it to the World Series, but don’t be surprised if the Rangers take on the Diamondbacks.
It doesn’t seem like the most traditional matchup for the annual Fall Classic, but these expanded baseball playoffs are just so edgy and new age, I almost want to see it happen.
I know one thing for sure: I’m interested in the next three rounds of Major League Baseball’s postseason, and I can’t remember the last time that was a thing.