The good news is that the format of the LHSAA baseball playoffs has been tweaked some for this season.
The bad news is that it hasn’t quite been tweaked enough.
The changes only apply to Class 5A schools, which will have their playoff brackets announced Sunday.
In the past, 32 teams made the field and played their way through a single-elimination bracket, culminating with a champion.
That changes this season. The first round will be single elimination just like in years past. But the next two rounds (the regional round and the quarterfinal round) will be a best-of-three series.
Then the format will go back to a single-elimination tournament for the semifinals and championship.
The change was adopted by principals of Class 5A schools at the LHSAA convention in January 2013. The proposal, led by Denham Springs Principal Kelly Jones, passed by a 20-11 margin.
Kudos to the principals for squeezing in a few best-of-three series into the playoffs.
That is the way baseball championships were meant to be determined. It prevents teams from relying on one pitcher to get all the way to the title game. The best-of-three format helps ensure the best team (not merely the team with the best pitcher) advances. Imagine if Major League Baseball had a one-game, winner-take-all World Series. (Well, you would have to rename it then because it would be no series).
So the change is a step in the right direction. But it would be even better if there was a way to play the entire tournament in a best-of-three format.
Going from single elimination for one round, then going to a series, then back to single elimination doesn’t make a lot of sense. But it’s better than the one-and-done format that the other classifications are sticking with this season.
“I like the idea that going to a two-out-of three series tends to lend itself to the better team winning,” Brother Martin coach Mark Wisniewski said. “But it’s still kind of off with single elimination then jumping to a series and jumping back to single elimination in the end. That defeats the purpose as far as determining who’s the best team and who’s not. I would have liked to have seen double elimination in the first couple rounds, and that would almost guarantee the best teams would be there in the end.”
Wisniewski’s team will enter the playoffs as one of the favorites. Brother Martin is the No. 2 ranked team in the LHSAA’s updated power rankings. Jesuit is ranked No. 3. No doubt, with their pitching depth, the Crusaders and the Blue Jays should have little trouble beating a No. 31 and No. 30 seeded team, respectively, in a best-of-three series. But a lower seeded team with one stud pitcher could pull off a first-round upset.
Shaw coach Kirk Bullinger would like to see one format all the way through as well.
“I think you either do two-out-of-three all the way or you don’t do it,” Bullinger said. “To start off with a single elimination and then going to two out of three, you are rushing things and you are putting a lot of stress on arms.”
Teams that qualify for the 5A playoffs are scheduled to play their first-round game by Tuesday. The winners of that round advance to play in the regional round in a series that would be played over two days (Friday and Saturday).
The winners of that would advance to a quarterfinal series that would be played May 9 and 10, with the winners moving on to the state semifinals in Sulphur the following weekend.
The biggest issue in playing best-of-three series all the way through appears to be time.
Teams have three weeks from the start of the playoffs to the championships.
One solution would be to shorten the regular season, thus allowing more time for a best -of-three series.
If that can’t be done, tweak it to play single elimination for the first three rounds (just like it has been done in the past) and then play best of-three series in the semifinals and finals. THAT’S baseball.