MLB tournament: how valid a champion?


Kenneth Matinale


Last updated: October 30, 2011

Click to see supporting data.

St. Louis Cardinals defeated Texas Rangers in MLB finals.  That’s how it should be described, not as Cardinals winning the World Series.  The 1994 season was the first with six divisions, increased from the four created for the 1969 season when the old American League (AL) and the old National League (NL) first increased to twelve team leagues, too many for a single entity it was thought.

The 1994 season had no post season tournament because of an impasse between the players and owners who had time to re-think their new creation but without the wisdom to see its imperfections.  There have now been 17 such tournaments.  How valid have they been in producing a true champion, especially compared to the 162 game regular season?

Baseball is very old and very tired and without much new thinking and what passes for new ideas are almost always jammed into an impossibly limiting construct, which precludes improvement.  The organizational structure of MLB is the primary example.  Baseball’s establishment and fans have not realized what happened in 1994: two independent but co-operating leagues merged into one league but did not have the sense to organize accordingly, such as having one set of rules.  There should be a designated fielder, not a designated hitter and only eight batters.

The Cardinals did not even “win” their division, whatever that means.  Some prefer that only division winners qualify for the tournament but never even think about defining that beyond the team with the most wins for the 162 game season.

Four of the six MLB divisions have five teams.  The 2011 finalists come from the other two divisions.  AL West champion Texas has only three division rivals, while NL Central runner up St. Louis has five.  How quaint.  MLB makes a big show of measuring things carefully but extracts its tournament teams in the sloppiest and haphazard manner.

AL East: five teams (18*4)/162 = 44.4%

AL Central: five teams (18*4)/162 = 44.4%

AL West: four teams (19*3)/162 = 35.1%    Hey, an odd number.  Who gets the extra home game?

NL  East: five teams (18*4)/162 = 44.4%

NL Central: six teams (18+14+15+16+16)/162 = 48.8%

NL West: five teams (18*4)/162 = 44.4%

So we just completed an MLB final in which one team, Texas, played only 35% of its games in division and the other, St. Louis, played 49% in division.  St. Louis beat its division champ Milwaukee in the previous round.

But what were the records of these teams in division?  What’s that?  No one has any idea?  Is that because no one ever had the basic common sense to think about it?

NL Central teams play different numbers of games against division rivals and this uneven number has rotated from year to year since 1998 when NL added Milwaukee Brewers and Arizona Diamondbacks, causing NL Central to expand to six teams.

In 2011 and 2010 St. Louis played a more balanced schedule than in some seasons since 1998.  St. Louis played four division rivals 15 games and one 18 games.  In 2011 the 18 game rival was Milwaukee and those games were split 9-9.  The disparity, however, could have impacted which team had the best record in division, which should determine the division winner, not the best record over all.  This is why at least 66% of games should be played in division and why divisions need to have more teams.  In 2010 St. Louis played Cincinnati 18 games going 12-6.  Despite that Cincinnati won the division by five games over St. Louis 91-86 and Atlanta was the wild card team with 91 wins.

St. Louis in 2011:

162        90        72 .555 all

83        46        37 .554 others

79        44        35 .557 NL Central    48.76% of 162

In 2011 Milwaukee won the division by six games over St. Louis: 96-90 but this time St. Louis was the wild card team.

Milwaukee in 2011:

162        96        66 .593 all        

82        45        37 .549 others

80        51        29 .634 NL Central    49.38% of 162

Milwaukee played one more division game than St. Louis and beat St. Louis in division 51-44.  Outside division St. Louis had one more win.  Milwaukee played these number of games against division rivals:

St. Louis 18 (9-9)

Cincinnati 16

Chicago 16

Houston 15

Pittsburgh 15

But suppose Milwaukee had the most wins in division but St. Louis had the most wins overall?  Which team would be the legitimate division winner and entitled to advance to the MLB tournament?  Has that happened?  Beats me but it easily could.

2011 most wins NL:

Philadelphia 102    lost to St. Louis

Milwaukee 96    lost to St. Louis

Arizona 94    lost to Milwaukee

St. Louis 90

2011 most wins AL:

New York Yankees 97    lost to Detroit

Texas 96

Detroit 95    lost to Texas

Tampa 91    lost to Texas

So the 2011 MLB tournament was won by the bottom cede, which had home field advantage because the feeble minded commissioner Bud Selig decided to have that determined by which “league” won an exhibition game: the all-star game.  The NFL plays at a neutral site and the NBA gives home court advantage in all rounds to the higher cede.

Should we celebrate a system that provides for a second chance or deplore a money grabbing exercise that rewards randomness at the expense of merit?

MLB should have learned a lesson in the first year of its tournament: 1995.  The labor problem from 1994 caused games to be cancelled early in 1995 and the teams played about 144 games.  Cleveland won 100.  Boston was next with 86.  That's a 14 game lead in only 144 games.  Seattle and the Yankees also qualified with 79 wins each.  What the heck?  Why the heck did Cleveland have to play anyone?  Cleveland lost in the finals 4-2 to 90 win Atlanta, which had five more wins than Cincinnati.

In the 17 tournaments 12 NL teams and 4 AL teams were out of luck, i.e., those teams had at least as many wins as the lowest ceded team in their "league" but did not make the tournament.  NL had FOUR such teams in 2008 and two in 2007!  SIXTEEN in 17 tournaments!


Atlanta 96 lost finals

San Diego 91

Los Angeles 90 wild card

St. Louis 88

Montreal out of luck

Cleveland 99 lost 3-1 to Baltimore in first round

Yankees 92 won finals 4-2

Texas 90

Baltimore 88 WC


Atlanta 101 lost to Florida 4-2

Florida 92 WC won finals 4-3

San Francisco 90

Mets 88 out of luck

Los Angeles 88 out of luck

Houston 84 swept by Atlanta in first round

Baltimore 98 lost to Cleveland 4-2

Yankees 96 WC lost to Cleveland 3-2

Seattle 90

Cleveland 86 lost finals


Atlanta 106 lost to San Diego 4-2

Houston 102 lost to San Diego 3-1

San Diego 98 lost finals

Chicago 90

Yankees 114 won finals 4-0

Boston 92

Cleveland 89

Texas 88

Toronto 88 out of luck


Atlanta 103 lost finals

Arizona 100 lost to Mets 3-1

Houston 97

Mets 97

Cincinnati 96 honorable mention

Yankees 98 won finals 4-0

Cleveland 97

Texas 95

Boston 94


San Francisco 97 lost to Mets 3-1

Atlanta  95

St. Louis 95

Mets 94 lost finals

Chicago 95 swept by Seattle in first round

Seattle  91

Oakland 91

Yankees 87 won finals 4-1


Houston 93 swept by Atlanta in first round

St. Louis 93 lost to Arizona 3-2

Arizona 92 WC won finals 4-3

San Francisco 90 out of luck

Atlanta 88

Seattle 116 lost to Yankees 4-1

Oakland 102 lost to Yankees 3-2

Yankees 95 lost finals

Cleveland 91 lost to Seattle 3-2


Atlanta 101 lost to San Francisco 3-2

Arizona 98 swept by St. Louis in first round

St. Louis 97

San Francisco 95 lost finals

Los Angeles 92 honorable mention

Yankees 101 lost to Angels 3-1

Oakland 101 lost to Minnesota 3-2

Angels 99 won finals 4-3

Minnesota 94

Seattle 93 honorable mention

Boston 93 honorable mention


Atlanta 101 lost to Chicago 3-2

San Francisco 100 lost to Florida 3-1

Florida 91 WC won finals 4-2

Chicago 88

Yankees 101 lost finals

Oakland 96

Boston 95

Seattle 93

Minnesota 90 honorable mention


St. Louis 105 lost finals 4-0; only top cede swept

Atlanta 96

Los Angeles 93

Houston 92 WC

San Francisco 91 honorable mention

Yankees 101 lost to Boston 4-3

Boston 98 WC won finals 4-0

Minnesota 92

Angels 92

Oakland 91 honorable mention


St. Louis 100 lost to Houston 4-2

Atlanta 90

Houston 89 WC lost finals 4-0

Philadelphia 88

Chicago 99 won finals 4-0

Yankees 95

Angels 95

Boston 95 WC

Cleveland 93 honorable mention


Mets 97 lost to St. Louis 4-3

San Diego 88

LA 88 WC

Philadelphia 85 out of luck

St. Louis 83 won finals 4-1

Yankees 97 lost to Detroit 3-1

Minnesota 96

Detroit 95 WC lost finals

Oakland 93

Chicago 90 honorable mention


Arizona 90 lost to Colorado 4-0

Colorado 90 WC lost finals 4-0

Philadelphia 89

San Diego 90 out of luck

Mets 88 out of luck

Chicago 85

Boston 96 won finals 4-0

Cleveland 96 lost to Boston 4-3

Yankees 94 WC

Angels 94


Chicago 97 swept by Los Angeles 3-0

Philadelphia 92 won finals 4-1

Milwaukee WC 90

Mets 89 out of luck

St. Louis 86 out of luck

Houston 86 out of luck

Los Angeles 84

Florida 84 out of luck

Angels 100 lost to Boston 3-1

Tampa 97 lost finals

Boston WC 95

Chicago 89

Yankees 89 out of luck


Los Angeles 95 lost to Philadelphia 4-1

Philadelphia 93 lost finals

Colorado 92

St. Louis 91

Yankees 103 won finals 4-2

Angels 97

Boston WC 95

Texas 87 out of luck

Minnesota 87 won extra play-in game v. Detroit

Detroit 86 out of luck extra play-in game v. Minnesota


Philadelphia 97 lost to San Francisco 4-2

San Francisco 92 won finals 4-1

Cincinnati 91

Atlanta 91 WC

San Diego 90 honorable mention

Tampa 96 lost to Texas 3-2

Yankees WC 95 lost to Texas 4-2

Minnesota 94

Texas 90 lost finals


Philadelphia 102 lost St. Louis 3-2

Milwaukee 96 lost St. Louis 4-2

Arizona 94

St. Louis 90 WC won finals 4-3

Yankees 97 lost to Detroit 3-2

Texas 96 lost finals

Detroit 95

Tampa 91

Boston 90 honorable mention

In 2011 St. Louis won its three tournament rounds 3-2, 4-2. 4-3.  That’s seven losses.  The most a team can lose and still win tournament is eight.  Texas, the team that lost to St. Louis, also had seven losses.  The most a team can lose and still play in the finals is nine.

Number of losses by the winner in MLB finals 1995-2011:

0 - 5

1 - 4

2 - 4

3 - 4

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