MLB Playoffs: first round opponents

Yesterday, on “Pardon the Interruption” on ESPN, there was a comment to the effect that the Cubs and Dodgers would play each other in the first round if the playoffs were to start today.

The NL standings as of Saturday morning would have these 4 teams in the playoffs:

St. Louis Cardinals (NL Central Champs–.648 winning percentage)
Los Angeles Dodgers (NL West Champs–.593)
Atlanta Braves (NL East Champs–.565)
Chicago Cubs (Wild Card–.550)

I was of the impression that the division champ with the best record faces the wild card team in the first round. Is there rule about the playoff structure that shuffles the opponents so that two teams from the same division don’t face each other in the first round?

If so, any idea why such a rule exists? Is it an attempt to get heated rivalries into later rounds (assuming both teams make it past the first round)?

I remember that the wild card Red Sox played the division champ Yankees in the second round of the AL playoffs last year, but I don’t recall if the Yankees had the best overall record in the AL going into the playoffs.

The first round can’t be between divisional foes. The logic behind it has always escaped me but that’s the way it is. Seed the division winners 1-3 and assign 4 to the wild card. First round 1 plays 4 and 2 plays 3, UNLESS 4 is in same division as 1, in which case it’s 1 vs 3 and 2 vs 4.

I think the OP’s example is the exact reason why division rivals won’t play each other in the first round.

A Cubs-Cardinals NLCS would likely generate a lot more fan interest, a lot more emotion, a lot more drama, and consequently a lot higher TV ratings, than a Cubs-Dodgers NLCS.

And let’s not kid ourselves. A Cubs-Cardinals NLCS would guarantee that every TV in two states would be tuned in to the games.

My take on the “why” is this: The point of the wild card is to give a second chance to a really good team in a division dominated by a really really good team. There were examples before the rule where the second place team’s record would have been enough to lead any other division. So, the Cubs, a fine team, will have a chance to prove themselves against, say, the Dodgers before having to face the Cardinals, who have brought woe to the Cubbies in the regular season.

I’m a Cards fan, but my feelings about this rule were the same when the Cards were the wild card team. Lately, the wild card race has been nip and tuck from day to day. If the Cubs end up on top, and I think they will, it’s been no easy trek. I salute ‘em (but I won’t be buyin’ Sammy any “special taco.”)

Indeed, last year the BoSox were the wild card and those damn Yankees were the #1 team in the AL. However, it was Boston vs. Oakland and NY vs. Minnesota in the division series. This ultimately made the ALCS series between legendary rivals NY and Boston that much more intense (and higher rated) because a trip to the World Series was at stake.

In fact, most baseball fans would say that the Boston - NY ALCS (and also the Cubs-Marlins NLCS) were much more exciting than the NY-Marlins World series (who few outside New York or FL cared about).

In fact Boston has taken the wild card a couple of times, but because of this rule never faces the perpetual #1 Yankees in the first round of the playoffs.