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Monday, September 22, 2003

Costas on the Baseball Playoffs

Bob Costas writes in yesterday's NYT sports section that baseball's playoff system needs revision in order to get back the excitement of divisional races and to adequately reward teams with the best regular season records in the playoff format. He throws out some ideas worth consideration.

The first point: "What once was the height of baseball excitement--a pennant race that goes to the wire--has been replaced by hyperventilating over the Phillies and the Marlins, teams never remotely close to first place all year."

True enough, but there still is an important race going on for home field between Atlanta and San Francisco, for example. Currently Atlanta is 97-59, the Giants 95-59, and San Fran is 54-23 at home versus 41-36 on the road, while the Braves are 53-25 and 44-34. I think they both would prefer to be hosting a Game 7 of the NLCS.

The second main point Costas makes is that the team's with the best records don't get enough of an advantage in the playoff format. His proposal to give the top seed 5 of 7 at home is too much of an edge, though. Other sports have 4 of 7 in the stadium of the team with the better record and it works fine, as it has in baseball for years.

The only change Costas advocates that I would make is expanding the best-of-five division series to best-of-seven. A lower-seeded team has an easier time pulling off the upset in a short series, especially with a hot pitcher or two. Make it seven games to give the team with the better record a real advantage. The NBA appropriately made this change to its first round of the playoffs this past spring.