Tuesday, October 2, 2012

You Kidding Me? Playoffs?

It's almost baseball playoff time, which can only mean one thing: someone somewhere is whining about the very existence of playoffs in baseball. I have seen fans that, no matter how many thrilling playoff races and playoff games there are, still are of the mind that there ought to only be two teams in the postseason: the team with the best AL record and the team with the best NL record. (Many of these same people will then go on to argue that the Astros not be the ones going to the AL next season to even things out at 15 apiece, but rather the Brewers on the grounds that they were there before and should be marched right back. That, or Major League Baseball ought to just contract all the way back to the classic 16 franchises that were around prior to 1961. But then, some of us are under 60 years old.)

But let's humor these people today. After all, the NHL and MLS give special recognition to the best regular-season records above and beyond simple playoff seeding. Let's go back as far as 1969- the first year with proper playoffs- redo things without them, and see what the World Series matchups would have been under the pre-1969 format of best-record-only. We're not interested in who would have won the World Series, just who would have gotten there.

The first matchup listed for each year is the one pitting the regular-season champions of each league. The second one, the one in parentheses, is the matchup that actually happened. In all cases, the American League representative is listed first.

You will also note three sets of asterisks; these denote instances where there were ties in the regular season. At the bottom, you'll see how each eventual representative was determined; thankfully, all three were able to be settled pretty easily.

1969: Orioles vs. Mets (Orioles vs. Mets)
1970: Orioles vs. Reds (Orioles vs. Reds)
1971: Orioles vs. Pirates (Orioles vs. Pirates)
1972: Athletics vs. Pirates (Athletics vs. Reds)
1973: Orioles vs. Reds (Athletics vs. Mets)
1974: Orioles vs. Dodgers (Athletics vs. Dodgers)
1975: Athletics vs. Reds (Red Sox vs. Reds)
1976: Yankees vs. Reds (Yankees vs. Reds)
1977: Royals vs. Phillies (Yankees vs. Dodgers)
1978: Yankees vs. Dodgers (Yankees vs. Dodgers)
1979: Orioles vs. Pirates (Orioles vs. Pirates)
1980: Yankees vs. Astros (Royals vs. Phillies)
1981: Athletics vs. Reds (Yankees vs. Dodgers)
1982: Brewers vs. Cardinals (Brewers vs. Cardinals)
1983: White Sox vs. Dodgers (Orioles vs. Phillies)
1984: Tigers vs. Cubs (Tigers vs. Padres)
1985: Blue Jays vs. Cardinals (Royals vs. Cardinals)
1986: Red Sox vs. Mets (Red Sox vs. Mets)
1987: Tigers vs. Cardinals (Twins vs. Cardinals)
1988: Athletics vs. Mets (Athletics vs. Dodgers)
1989: Athletics vs. Cubs (Athletics vs. Giants)
1990: Athletics vs. Pirates (Athletics vs. Reds)
1991: Twins vs. Pirates (Twins vs. Braves)
1992: Athletics* vs. Braves (Blue Jays vs. Braves)
1993: Blue Jays vs. Braves (Blue Jays vs. Phillies)
1994: Yankees vs. Expos (no World Series)
1995: Indians vs. Braves (Indians vs. Braves)
1996: Indians vs. Braves (Yankees vs. Braves)
1997: Orioles vs. Braves (Indians vs. Marlins)
1998: Yankees vs. Braves (Yankees vs. Padres)
1999: Yankees vs. Braves (Yankees vs. Braves)
2000: White Sox vs. Giants (Yankees vs. Mets)
2001: Mariners vs. Astros** (Yankees vs. Diamondbacks)
2002: Yankees vs. Braves (Angels vs. Giants)
2003: Yankees vs. Braves (Yankees vs. Marlins)
2004: Yankees vs. Cardinals (Red Sox vs. Cardinals)
2005: White Sox vs. Cardinals (White Sox vs. Astros)
2006: Yankees vs. Mets (Tigers vs. Cardinals)
2007: Red Sox*** vs. Diamondbacks (Red Sox vs. Rockies)
2008: Angels vs. Cubs (Rays vs. Phillies)
2009: Yankees vs. Dodgers (Yankees vs. Phillies)
2010: Rays vs. Phillies (Rangers vs. Giants)
2011: Yankees vs. Phillies (Rangers vs. Cardinals)

*- The Blue Jays and Athletics had identical records. Game 1 of the ALCS was used as the theoretical one-game tiebreaker, which the Athletics won 4-3 in Toronto.
**- The Astros and Cardinals had identical records. The Astros were awarded the NL Central title over the Cardinals based on their season series. The two did not meet in the playoffs.
***- The Red Sox and Indians had identical records. Game 1 of the ALCS was used as the theoretical one-game tiebreaker, which the Red Sox won 10-3 in Boston.

So what does this all say? Well, first off, the Cubs' curse of never making the World Series again would have been broken in 1984. In fact, it would have been broken three times over, with Steve Bartman having been bypassed completely. (Contrary to popular belief, the curse prevents the Cubs from merely making the World Series, not winning it outright. The former naturally prevents the latter, but if they got in, hey, who knows.) Second, boy would the Braves have been better off in the 90's.

The playoffs rendered the same result as a non-playoff setting in 1969, 1970, 1971, 1976, 1978, 1979, 1982, 1986, 1995 and 1999. 1992 would be there as well had the theoretical one-game playoff gone the other way.

Overall, though, what does this say? Who would have benefited the most from a lack of playoffs, and who has been hurt the most by their presence? For that, we're simply going to take how many times a team has made the World Series in real life, and subtract the number of times they would have made the World Series in a non-playoff alternate reality. The higher the resulting number, the more the team has benefited from the playoffs' existence. (We'll remove 1994, which wouldn't have had a World Series either way.)

Phillies: 5-3= +2
Red Sox: 4-2= +2
Giants: 3-1= +2
Marlins: 2-0= +2
Padres: 2-0= +2
Rangers: 2-0= +2
Cardinals: 6-5= +1
Dodgers: 5-4- +1
Royals: 2-1= +1
Twins: 2-1= +1
Rockies: 1-0= +1
Yankees: 11-11= 0
Reds: 5-5= 0
Mets: 4-4= 0
Blue Jays: 2-2= 0
Indians: 2-2= 0
Tigers: 2-2= 0
Angels: 1-1= 0
Brewers: 1-1= 0
Diamondbacks: 1-1= 0
Rays: 1-1= 0
Expos/Nationals: 0-0= 0
Athletics: 6-7= -1
Astros: 1-2= -1
Mariners: 0-1= -1
Orioles: 5-7= -2
White Sox: 1-3= -2
Pirates: 2-5= -3
Cubs: 0-3= -3
Braves: 5-9= -4

You'll first note that 29 out of the 30 clubs have a stake in the discussion (though the Brewers are arguable, because either way they'd only have 1982 against the Cardinals), and the 30th may be only days away from having one as well. 11 clubs have made more Fall Classics than they would have without a playoff; 8 have made fewer. The Marlins, Padres, Rangers and Rockies would not have made the World Series without the playoffs, while the Mariners and Cubs- especially the Cubs- have been rendered Series-less by the playoffs. Only one club has been zeroed out both ways- the Expos/Nationals- and they're the unofficial NL champs of 1994, and potentially this year's regular-season NL champs. They enter today tied with the Reds with two games to go; the Rangers lead the AL with the Orioles, Yankees and Athletics still capable of taking the title.

Well, capable of taking it after the playoffs get underway, at least. They and the Tigers, Braves, Giants, and either the Dodgers or Cardinals.

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