Baseball’s regular season closed with a flourish — the New York Yankees and Boston both won in their last at-bat to wrap up playoff spots.
And for a while, it looked like there might be even more excitement than that.
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The final day began with four teams still in the mix for the American League’s two wild cards — all of them within a game of each other — and the top two teams in baseball fighting it out for the NL West title. For all the talk about postseason expansion, the current format held up pretty well this year, if the idea is to create compelling, close races at the end of the season.
Consider what this year’s standings would have produced if baseball had a 14-team postseason with four wild cards per league. In the AL, seventh-place Seattle finished four games ahead of eighth-place Oakland. No race to the finish there, and the fight for the No. 1 seed (and a first-round bye) would have gone comfortably to Tampa Bay.
In the NL, the Giants and Dodgers would have battled to the end for the top seed, the same way they did for the division title. Seventh-place Philadelphia finished three games ahead of a sub-.500 San Diego team.
What makes the conversation about postseason expansion tricky is that it’s hard to find consensus on what the goal of the playoff format should be. Is it to reward the best teams? Is it to keep more teams in the race? Is it to create an exciting finish to the regular season for neutral fans?
The 106-win Dodgers, who finished a game behind San Francisco in the NL West, now have to face St. Louis in a single-elimination situation. Meanwhile, 88-win Atlanta goes straight to the Division Series. Maybe that seems unfair, but the current playoff format made the NL West race matter and forced both the Dodgers and Giants to keep playing important games all the way to the end.
Those are the types of tradeoffs that need to be considered.
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The Red Sox host the Yankees in the AL wild-card game Tuesday. That will be the first time those rivals have played a winner-take-all matchup in Boston since their one-game tiebreaker for the 1978 AL East title. Bucky Dent famously hit a big home run for New York, but there were also two other homers in that game, both by Hall of Famers. Who hit them?
LINE OF THE WEEK
Brandon Lowe homered three times in Tampa Bay’s 12-2 win over the Yankees on Saturday. That was the 100th victory of the year for the Rays, the first time they’ve reached that mark.
COMEBACK OF THE WEEK
Colorado allowed seven runs in the third inning at Arizona on Friday night. It was still 7-0 in the sixth when the Rockies rallied with six runs of their own. Then they scored three runs in the ninth and won 9-7. At one point Colorado had a 0.9% chance to win, according to Baseball Savant.
That was one of 110 losses this season for Arizona, which finished tied with Baltimore for the worst record in the majors.
Every out was big for the Yankees in their 1-0 win over Tampa Bay on Sunday that wrapped up their playoff spot. Shortstop Gio Urshela caught a foul popup at full speed after a long run in the sixth inning, and his momentum sent him falling down the steps into the Rays’ dugout. He held onto the ball for the out and stayed in the game for a bit, although he was eventually replaced.
Carl Yastrzemski and Reggie Jackson.