World Series: Is this what we want?

By and large, we want two mutually exclusive things from the playoffs: high-stakes drama, and a process that bears out the best team in the sport. Drama is usually only interpreted as the top teams being threatened and challenged, but if they never truly have an advantage because the process is chaos, the premise of the drama starts to erode. A random team emerging from a chaotic churn is dramatic if a lottery drawing is dramatic.

Some obviously care more about one than the other, and it tends to sort in terms of seriousness of the fan. The casual fan probably has a lot easier time accepting the reality of the plucky, long-suffering, 89-win Royals, who had a worse regular season run differential than the homebound Seattle Mariners and Toronto Blue Jays, or the San Francisco Giants, the very last team to qualify for the NL playoffs, than those who spent the summer meticulously accounting the strength of every MLB team.

Pure chalk is nearly unwatchable for good reason, though. To turn up the knob of regular season meaningfulness all the way to 11 is to strip any meaning from the playoffs, making their existence a drawn-out formality. If the playoffs don't actually cover any new ground in proving the worthiness of the teams participating, why do they exist? Besides money, of course.

Which of the crux of the matter: this stuff has to attract eyeballs, and just as much as that, it needs to attract new ones. As trivial as constant concern trolling about the age demographics of the viewership or mocking over its declining marketshare (never the actual market) to football, it's reflective of a business environment that demands signs of growth. Baseball wants to expand its audience more than it wants to keep its existing one happy, since that is either easy to do, or completely impossible not to do. 

The ever-widening playoff field, and the increased playoff result variance that comes with it, is an obvious nod to that urge. It keeps more fanbases and regions plugged in to the playoff race for longer, since the dog days of the season are harder to love for casual fans than nutty playoff results are for diehards.

The only momentum in this situation is toward more games, more teams, more revenue, which at least offers solace that the eventual 15-game World Series played in a weather controlled dome in mid-December will offer a half-reasonable sample size.

Until then, the playoffs, as they do in other sports but perhaps more jarringly, challenge teams to display different strengths and abilities. Where depth, resource management and keeping a long view is rewarded to gain access to the postseason, frontline talent, mangers' ability to detach from prudent instincts and be ceaselessly aggressive, and of course, a short stretch of fluky mistake avoidance to survive the random number generator that is the results of 12-20 games of play. The Royals-Giants matchup isn't necessarily a shining example of the integrity of this process, but it was always an eminently possible result of this process. If we actually want it to change, this is probably the best thing for it.


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