In the first year of the new 12-team MLB playoff format, a No. 6 seed has made the World Series. The Philadelphia Phillies were 87-75 in the regular season, finishing in third place in the NL East and 14 games back of both the Mets and division-winning Braves. Thanks to knocking off the NL Central champion Cardinals in the Wild Card Series, the defending champion Braves in the NLDS and then Padres in the NLCS, the Phillies have secured the NL pennant.
In glancing around social media, this appears to be a big problem for baseball, according to some fans.
I'm here to tell those people why are they mistaken. Let's run through it and dispute their nonsense.
'A third-place team shouldn't make the playoffs'
This seems arbitrary, frankly, but I keep seeing it. Where is it written that second place is OK and third place isn't? The American League East was clearly the class of baseball, as a division, and the Rays came in third and made the playoffs. I didn't see much of an uproar there. The Orioles finished fourth and it was great for baseball that they contended as long as they did.
I'm just trying to wrap my head around how geography matters. Third-place teams made the playoffs under the old format, too.
How about 2015? The same division housed the three best records in all of baseball. The Cubs won 97 games but, had the third-best record in baseball yet finished third in the NL Central. And we're going to argue -- again, due to geography -- that third-place teams don't deserve the playoffs?
'They only won 87 games'
Oh yes, please, let's discuss this one. It's hilariously ignorant to baseball history and we'll get to that.
First, though, the Phillies aren't far off of being a powerhouse team. They played at a 95-win pace after May and this was in spite of losing one of the best players in the league for two months. Bryce Harper broke his thumb and was out from June 26 through Aug. 25. He wasn't even remotely himself after the quick return, either, until about Game 2 of the Wild Card Series.
The Phillies have a pair of aces (Zack Wheeler and Aaron Nola), a two-time MVP (Harper), the NL home run champion (Kyle Schwarber), a three-time All-Star catcher (J.T. Realmuto) and more. This is hardly a Little Engine That Could.
As for the win total, boy, have I got some news for the people worried about it.
The Braves won the World Series after 88 regular-season wins last year. The 2014 World Series featured the 88-win Giants taking down the 89-win Royals. The 88-win Tigers won the AL pennant in 2012. The 2005 Astros won 89 games and got hot at the right time to make the World Series. Cleveland's ballclub took the AL pennant in 1997 after just 86 wins. Did you remember that?
Did you know the Yankees only won 87 games in 2000? Gasp! The Yankees dynasty? They only won 87 games before winning the World Series? Oh, the horror!
The 2006 Cardinals were the World Series champions and they won only 83 games in the regular season.
Even if we went back to the old format, the 1973 Mets took the NL pennant after an 82-win regular season.
The 1987 Twins were just 85-77 in the regular season and had a negative run differential. Does any of that matter anymore? Nope. Flags fly forever.
Somehow we survived all of that. We'll make it as a sport after the 2022 World Series, too, I promise.
'The division winners shouldn't have to play wild cards'
The two division winners that had to play in the Wild Card Series this year were the Guardians and Cardinals.
The Guardians finished with 92 wins, which tied them for third in the AL. They were six games better than the sixth-seeded Rays and 14 games worse than the top-seeded Astros. The Guardians hosted the Rays in the Wild Card Series. The Guardians ranked 23rd of 30 MLB teams in strength of schedule.
The Cardinals finished with 93 wins. That was fourth in the NL, 18 games worse than the top-seeded Dodgers and eight games worse than the Mets, who got the No. 4 seed. The Cardinals were No. 3. They hosted the Phillies, who were only six games worse than them. The Cardinals ranked dead last in schedule strength in all of baseball this year.
I'm finding it difficult to feel sorry for either team or to be persuaded into believing the situation is "unfair" for either.
'Why not just let everyone in?!?!'
Bonus points if there's mention of "participation trophies" with this one.
This is, obviously, incredibly ignorant when Major League Baseball still has more exclusive playoffs than NFL, NBA, WNBA, NHL, MLS, etc.
But, hey, keep the whining coming. Not only is it very entertaining, it's given me lots of material here for today after the LCS both finished too early for my liking.
'The regular season is rendered meaningless'
No, it's not at all. Not meaningless, but at least this complaint is the closest one to being grounded in reality.
Any time playoff teams are added, the regular season becomes incrementally more watered down and less meaningful, relatively speaking. We only had two teams with a winning record -- and two more at exactly .500 -- miss the playoffs. I'd say we're maxed out on playoff teams and I'm holding out hope they don't expand the field again until there are at least two more teams (yes, expansion will come at some point).
Still, what's the alternative? The one-game wild card was incredibly fun theater, but only one game determining who moves on after a 162-game marathon isn't really how baseball is supposed to operate. The entire season is a set of series. That's what makes this sport unique. Now the playoffs reflect that again.
The regular season is certainly a lot less meaningful than when the pennant winner in each league was simply the team with the best regular-season record and there weren't playoffs other than the World Series. Is that what we wanted? Instead of everything we've seen these past several weeks, we would just skip all that and get Astros-Dodgers?
That would be the way to maximize the meaning of the regular season. It also costs us tons of entertainment. And doesn't it render large portions of the regular season meaningless for most of the teams?
The Dodgers would have clinched the NL with a few weeks left and there would never have been much drama. The Astros would've cruised to the AL title without having to sweat much, either.
Also, we still wouldn't be guaranteed a matchup of powerhouses or get the "correct" winner on an annual basis. Let's go all the way back to 1906! The Cubs won 116 games compared to the 93 the White Sox won. The White Sox won the World Series in six games. There are dozens of other examples of inferior regular-season teams winning in the World Series, that's just the most extreme with a 23-game difference.
Stuff happens in the postseason, no matter how we format it.
'A six seed!?!?'
Has any sport ever survived the utter catastrophe that is a No. 6 seed getting to the finals?
The NBA playoffs take like three months after they let more than half the league in, and yet they've still had an eight seed (2000 Knicks) make the finals. A No. 6 won it all in 1995 (Rockets).
Over in the NFL, the 2005 Steelers and 2010 Packers were six seeds that won the Super Bowl.
In the NHL, the Kings won the Stanley Cup from the eight seed in 2012. Six other teams went to the Stanley Cup Finals from a seven or eight seed.
Do we really need to run through the NCAA basketball tournament history?
Fortunately, I don't pay enough attention to all the chatter from other sports to know if there's also incessant whining when an underdog run to the finals happens.
Hopefully it's embraced. I know I love it (well, other than when the Packers won, but that's a different discussion for a different day).
The Phillies are major underdogs against an Astros juggernaut. That's a really fun story. Let's celebrate the underdogs and the titans, both. Not all paths to the championship round have to be the same.
And, please, stop making stuff up. We've seen plenty of teams worse than these Phillies make a deep run. This is no travesty.