Update: The evening after the following item was published, the Colorado Rockies lost a marathon playoff game to the Arizona Diamondbacks by a score of 11-8. The loss officially eliminated the Rockies from the post-season in 2017. Continue for our previous coverage.
Original post: After years of outright suckage, your Colorado Rockies have made the playoffs for the first time since 2009. But their time in the spotlight could be short. The squad will take on the Arizona Diamondbacks at 6:08 p.m. Mountain Time tonight, October 4, but it's not the first meeting in a series between the two wild-card entrants from the National League. Rather, it's a single-game elimination, meaning that the Coloradans' surprisingly strong season could be over tonight. And that's stupid for reasons that go well beyond Rockies fandom.
The play-in game for wild-card teams debuted in 2012, and the concept is clearly an attempt to balance multiple goals. Major League Baseball wanted to expand the playoffs, where revenues are greatest and broadcast viewership is the most robust, but without significantly lengthening the season or pushing the World Series so deep into the year that snow-outs were an even greater possibility than they already are. Hence the one-game approach, which supposedly increases the stakes in a way that blatantly imitates the National Football League playoffs and March Madness.
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What's wrong with that? For one thing, the MLB regular season is much, much longer than those for the NFL or college basketball — 162 games versus sixteen and a maximum of 31, respectively. That's why the idea of a series is so embedded in baseball tradition. After such a marathon, a single nine-inning contest is a terrible way to determine the best team in comparison to multiple match-ups with different pitchers in each outfit's home stadium.
The latter approach offers a prolonged competition that suits the rhythms of the sport. The former can be a flat-out fluke that puts the visiting team (as the Rockies are in this case) at a distinct disadvantage.
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Granted, plenty of folks see things differently, including Tony Kornheiser and Michael Wilbon, hosts of ESPN's Pardon the Interruption. During yesterday's broadcast, the pair became absolutely exasperated at criticism of the format, which has been driven in recent days by the fear that the New York Yankees — a wild-card squad in the American League — might be eliminated too quickly for the nation to truly get to know new star Aaron Judge, who set a new rookie home-run record with 52 moonshots. No doubt dreams of hefty TV ratings of the sort the Yankees generate was a factor, too.
Because the Yankees defeated the Minnesota Twins 8-4 last night, a rapid exit for the New York crew is now off the table. But different ideas about changing the single-game elimination concept are still being floated. Some folks like the idea of the home team moving on with a victory, but the visitor having to win the first game plus one more scheduled either on another day or as part of an impromptu double-header.
Far preferable, in my view, would be a simple best two out of three at the wild-card level. That's fewer games than other MLB series, but still a longer and more meaningful way of doing things. This modification would allow fan interest to build instead of being abruptly crushed after a few short hours.
The Diamondbacks have played the Rockies tough this year, winning the season series 11-8. Which isn't to say the Rockies are doomed: The team, which boasts the National League batting champion (Charlie Blackmon) and the likely NL most valuable player (Nolan Arenado) are formidable opponents fully capable of earning a victory tonight. But even if they do, we'd love for the play-in game to be sent packing. And permanently.