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Is 163 the way — or an unnecessary extra day?

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National League Tiebreaker Game - Colorado Rockies v Los Angeles Dodgers Photo by Harry How/Getty Images

Is 163 the Way or An Unnecessary Extra Day?

Playing an extra game to break a season-long tie isn’t new and while its rare, it isn’t THAT rare.

It has happened 14 times in baseball’s history and to my shock and awe, prior to 1969, the National League played a three game series rather than a one-game winner-take-all to break ties (Thanks Wikipedia).

Do we really need 163, or GASP, 165 games to decide who wins their respective division?

It isn’t like we were deciding the World Championship on Monday. Playing the extra game was to determine who has the opportunity to win the world title, and in the 2018 case, none of the four teams that played a 163rd game would have been eliminated from the playoffs if they lost. They just had to play Tuesday if they lost Monday, in the Wild Card, before they go home for golf season. Is it really fair or necessary to play game 163?

I suggest that while I loved that they did, they shouldn’t.

The season is already too long and too condensed, and since the advent of television and multi-million dollar TV contracts, it is pre-planned to the enthed degree because it needs to be. The Television Networks plan budgets around what they offer Major League Baseball to carry these games. They sell commercials and sponsorships based on airing playoff games on specific days and at specific times.

The Networks especially, but teams and fans as well, need to know when these games are going to be played in advance. Delaying the playoffs as much as a week to squeeze in three “extra” games (like they did prior to 1969 when the National League played a three game series to break ties) to decide something that could be done in a myriad of other potential ways is unnecessary at the very least and ridiculous if you really think about it, which obviously I have.

This years version of Game 163 determined seeding and who plays in the Wild Card play-in game versus who advanced directly to the divisional series. They weren’t elimination games, they were placeholders. Avoiding a one-game, winner-take-all Wild Card game on Tuesday and advancing directly to the Divisional round of the playoffs provided urgency for the four National League teams to win on Monday, but it wasn’t the end of the line for any of them. Tuesday for the National League and Wednesday for the American is. And, Tuesday was made unfair and that much more difficult for the Cubs and the Rockies because Major League baseball decides its division winners on the field rather in October rather than have a predetermined list of tiebreakers.

All cards on the table, I love everything extra when it comes to sports. Extra innings and overtime. Game fives or Game sevens. Wild Cards and play-ins. I like them all.

I want every playoff series to go to the final possible game regardless of what sport and which teams. It creates a level of drama that game four or six or inning seven or eight doesn’t have and doesn’t exist in the middle of the fourth quarter versus the beginning of overtime.

The Wild Card play-in game is one of the few MUST-WATCH events on baseballs calendar and I am glad, regardless of whether it’s fair or not, that baseball instituted it, but game 163 tastes wrong and feels unnecessary.

I will say it again, I loved Monday in MLB. I almost forced my sister to pull her kids out of school early to force them to watch the 1pm Cubs/Brewers game with me.

But, it was unfair. Forcing four teams to extend their season and tax their rotations and bullpens will negatively impact their ability to compete in the season-ending Wild Card game for the purposes of seeding when it could be decided, fairly, through a predetermined set of tiebreakers has unnecessarily created an un-level playing field.

Playing a 163rd game appears to be the fairer way to break the divisional tie. Let the players decide it on the field, head-to-head, mano a mano. It would be even more fair if they played a three game series like the National League did before 1969. Why don’t do that anymore. Why? Because it’s impractical in today’s television driven, commercialized world and it impacts the games that matter even more, the playoffs. And, is a one game winner-take-all scenario really the fairest way?

Is it more or less fair to have two teams decide in one game what they tried, and I would argue did do, in 162?

Baseball plays an unbalanced schedule and the most significant contributor to the imbalance is divisional games. One of many possible tiebreakers could be overall record against divisional opponents or overall record against similar opponents, which would be made up primarily of divisional rivals. Or, they could use head-to-head record.

The Cubs beat the Brewers head-to-head 11-9 this season, 11-8 if you don’t include yesterday’s loss. The Dodgers beat the Rockies 14-6, 13-6 if you don’t include game 163.

If you want it proven on the field, it already was. If head-to-head record isn’t enough why not look at strength of schedule.

Because Mondays participants were playing to decide their respective divisions, their schedules compared to their opponents were almost identical, making strength of schedule or overall record against common opponents a fair barometer of who the better team was over an entire season.

The Dodgers, for example, played an additional game against the Cubs and St. Louis Cardinals than the Rockies while the Rockies played an extra game against the New York Mets and Washington Nationals. Their schedules were only different by two games, but the Dodgers did play a slightly more difficult schedule.

If how the two teams played against one another, head-to-head, doesn’t convince you and if two teams finishing with the same record in spite of one team playing a harder schedule than the other isn’t enough, then why not look at the statistics?

The way teams win games is by scoring runs or more specifically, scoring more runs than they allow. Why don’t they use runs scored or run differential or use them as the third or fourth tiebreaker? Neither is perfect and total runs scored is more arbitrary than I would like to see, but it works as another tiebreaker if the better options are also ties.

We need more than one in case they tie in more than just season record, so runs scored or runs allowed could function as an option down a long line of options.

Regardless of how MLB chooses to break a divisional tie, there are better, fairer ways that are more accommodating that won’t handicap the teams for the games that are suppose to matter most that they still have to play, the playoffs.

The Cubs,Brewers, Dodgers, and Rockies had to play on Monday after having to play on Sunday afternoon. The Brewers had to travel after their game in Milwaukee to Chicago to play a 1pm game at Wrigley Field while the Rockies had to fly from Colorado to Los Angeles to play a 4pm game. It hardly seems fair and it appears random and arbitrary for two teams, according to the very existence of a 163rd game are supposed to be tied, to play on the road rather than at home.

Why didn’t they play at a neutral field and flip a coin to see who was home and who was away? Why didn’t they play in Atlanta where the divisional series begins as a reward to Atlanta and their fans or somewhere in between Los Angeles and Colorado or Chicago and Milwaukee? Let’s admit that “fairness” probably isn’t the barometer that Major League Baseball cares about, but it should. Fairness does matter. Whoever loses these games has to play Tuesday and if they lose that game their 2018 season is over.

That’s what’s most unfair. All four teams played 162 games with a goal of winning their division so they could avoid a winner-take-all elimination Wild Card game.

But, game 163 isn’t all or nothing. While losing that game and playing in the Wild Card is not the best possible outcome, it isn’t the worst. They still get to play in the Wild Card game and because of game 163 they NOW are in the worst case scenario.

The losers of game 163 have extended their team an extra game only to lose and now they have used their best available starters and taxed their bullpen and any offensive players who played hurt because it was an “all hands on deck” situation and now they are even more overworked entering a Wild Card game that actually IS a game with their season on the line and in the case of the Rockies, they have to travel, again. They will be playing a game in three different cities on three consecutive days.

It is a little unreasonable to argue that the Cubs,Brewers,Rockies, or Dodgers should have rested their best players or passed over their best pitchers in game 163 so they were rested for a potential Wild Card game on Tuesday that they were hoping to avoid in the first place or the Divisional Series on Thursday that they are hoping to be in, but the Cubs and Rockies would have been better off if they had.

Now, they lost and they’re handicapped. Monday’s game was not an elimination game. Nobodies season was ending, win or lose. That’s not the case now and the Cubs and Rockies are worse off because of it. Is that fair? And, they have to play the next day without a day off.

The Cubs and Rockies played Friday, Saturday, Sunday, an extra game Monday and for the Rockies, after traveling for Monday’s game, they now have to travel to play Tuesday before the winner has to fly to Atlanta to play Thursday. The Braves and the entire American League benefits from this chaotic and physically draining stretch after an already lengthy and exhausting 162-game season.

It isn’t like one extra day after so many in an already long season is the straw that broke the camel’s back, but it’s difficult to argue that the playing field is even or that it isn’t exhausting important resources at a time when they need them at 100% the most.

The NFL catches a lot of flack for a lower quality product on Thursday Night Football because the teams don’t have time to rest or properly prepare for Thursdays opponent after playing on Sunday. Forcing these four teams to play a 163rd game that could easily be decided in a fairer and more reasonable way through tiebreakers puts them all at a disadvantage heading into the playoffs.

I loved yesterday’s games, the urgency and the drama that those games had and I hope it happens every single year from now and eternity, unless my Boston Red Sox are one of those teams. The four 163rd game participants got the shaft and the Rockies and Cubs got an extra helping of it in the process.

I loved it, but I can’t help but think it’s unfair and unnecessary for the teams, who is what the playoffs should be about. Creating a level playing field and allowing the best teams to be at their best when it matters most should be the priority and the 163rd game did not do that and certainly did not achieve it. Put in place a list of tiebreakers and lets make things fair.

You can follow me on Twitter @CJMitch73 and on Facebook in the group “A Podcast To Be Named Later.”