Dodgers manager Dave Roberts made a wager with old friend Bruce Bochy that if his club lost the National League West to Bochy’s San Francisco Giants, he’d owe him a dinner and a nice bottle of Bordeaux.
After 162 games, the Dodgers lost by a single contest.
“It’s his choice [of wine], but you know it’s going to be something expensive,” Roberts said.
The Dodgers wound up in Wednesday night’s NL Wild Card Game at Dodger Stadium, where they served up a taught 3-1 victory against the St. Louis Cardinals on a walk-off, two-run homer from Chris Taylor.
The Dodgers and Giants now have each won 107 games and will meet each other again in a best-of-five NL Division Series, beginning Friday night at Oracle Park in San Francisco. The Giants won the season series between the two teams, 10-9. That’s how even it’s been.
“When you win this amount of games, [the Wild Card] is not ideal,” Roberts said.
And while this postseason is transpiring, talk of playoff expansion from 10 teams to perhaps 12 or 14 and a different format is on the agenda as the owners negotiate a new Basic Agreement with the Players Association.
Those talks are moving slowly toward a Dec. 1 deadline, when the owners could lockout the players if a deal is not completed.
Playoff expansion is an economic issue. More postseason games means more money for the owners, in television dollars and at the gate. For the players it’s an expansion of the playoff pool, which was $80.9 million in 2019, the last full season before the pandemic.
There are some who believe this year that the two best teams in baseball should have been paired in the best-of-seven NL Championship Series.
“You’ve got the two best teams with the best records, and you’d think they’d have it figured out so they could play each other in the best-of-seven instead of the best-of-five,” said Bochy, still a consultant with the Giants after winning the World Series three times during his 13-year tenure as manager.
Not this year. Not now. The Giants and Dodgers will renew their old-time rivalry that dates back to New York and Brooklyn in one NLDS, while the Atlanta Braves face the Milwaukee Brewers in the other.
With the demise of the New York Yankees at Boston in the American League Wild Card Tuesday night, it’s the Red Sox vs. the defending AL champion Tampa Bay Rays in one ALDS, and the Chicago White Sox vs. the Houston Astros in the other. Those series start Thursday.
The Giants have never played the Dodgers in the postseason since the playoff format was originally expanded in 1969. But they had epic battles for the NL pennant in 1951 and 1962, when the Giants won a pair of best-of-three series, coming from behind in the ninth inning both times.
The 1951 series was won at the Polo Grounds, where New York’s Bobby Thomson homered off of Brooklyn’s Ralph Branca to end one of the most famous games in baseball history.
The Dodgers shaped their own epic in the way they defeated the Cardinals Wednesday night. There’s nothing to be done with the rules right now but just adapt to them.
“Look, you have to win your division. We didn’t win our division,” said pitcher Max Scherzer, who started for the Dodgers Wednesday night and gave up the one Cardinals run before he was pulled in the fifth inning at 94 pitches. “There’s no crying in baseball. We finished second, so we had to play in the Wild Card Game.”
Scherzer is an NL rep in the MLBPA and has more working knowledge about the negotiations than most players.
He said he’s very happy with the current playoff format.
“I love it,” he said. “It kept us and the Giants playing as hard as we could until the last day of the season. We had the best records, and you had teams fighting to make the Wild Card. If you look at the league as a whole everything was really competitive to the very end. The format works. It keeps everybody on edge.”
But there are questions about adding more teams.
Last year when COVID-19 plagued the league and the season was abbreviated to 60 games, the postseason was expanded from 10 to 16 teams. The playoffs opened with a week of eight best-of-three series to qualify for the standard three rounds.
Commissioner Rob Manfred said he was bullish on the excitement of that week and last winter tried to negotiate a more modest expansion for this postseason.
When he tried to tie that expansion to using the designated hitter again in the NL, the union rejected the proposal and stuck to the terms of the current five-year Basic Agreement.
The DH was utilized last year in both leagues as a health and safety issue and is expected to be formalized for good in the new agreement.
Scherzer was not a fan of last year’s expanded playoffs.
“Personally, I didn’t like it,” he said, “because when you’re the best team in your division, your season shouldn’t come down to a three-game series. I don’t like that format moving forward in a 162-game season. I could understand it being done for the 2020 season. But in 2021, how can you say to the Dodgers and Giants that you were the best teams and now your season is going to come down to three games? I don’t think that’s right. There are other formats available.”
There’s a possibility of expanding the two Wild Cards to a best-of-three series. And it would be easy to reintroduce the rule that the Wild Card winner couldn’t play a team within its own division in the best-of-five LDS.
If that were the case this year, the Giants would have played the 88-win Braves and the Dodgers the 95-win Brewers.
Had the Dodgers and Giants survived, as Bochy pointed out, they then would have played each other in the NLCS , allowing one of the teams with the best record to represent the NL in the World Series.
“That’s a question that we really have to ask ourselves as Major League players,” Scherzer said. “Are there teams that missed the playoffs this year that should have been in it because they really did have a chance at winning the World Series? At the same time, you have to be cognizant that we have a playoff system that works. And it works pretty well.”
Meanwhile, there’s that good-natured bet between Bochy and Roberts, whose team has to get by the Giants to defend last year’s World Series title.
Roberts had a postgame suggestion.
“Double or nothing,” he said.