According to multiples sources, MLB Commissioner Bud Selig has announced that with the approved sale of the Houston Astros, and their subsequent move from the National League to the American League, the new 15 team leagues will be comprised of three divisions and give playoff berths to not only the division winners, but also the winner of a one game playoff between the two next best teams beginning in 2013 at the latest, with a chance that the play-in game will happen this coming year. In order to even out the leagues in this fashion, there will be interleague series occurring throughout the season, instead of during a single designated time.
While the introduction of a one game playoff between the two teams with the best records in the league not to win a division is certainly an exciting venture, it’s something of a wasted opportunity. With the Astros joining the AL, MLB could have restructured itself into bringing back the two division set up that enhanced rivalries and most importantly, ensured a more even schedule between the teams competing for wild card entry.
Under this scenario, the two division winners plus the team with the next best record would’ve been guaranteed a playoff spot with the next two best records facing off in the play-in game for which MLB seems to be hankering.
What I don’t like about the new set up is that it does nothing to change the uneven schedules most obvious in the American League East where the New York Yankees, Tampa Bay Rays, Boston Red Sox, Toronto Blue Jays and Baltimore Orioles all compete. It also places the teams with the two best records after the division winners on equal footing. If we’re talking in terms of ensuring that the best teams make it to the playoffs under a five team, three division format, then one Wild Card makes perfect sense.
If we look at the final standings of past seasons, more often than not the Wild Card winner finished with a better record than at least one of the division winners. The next best team rarely does this. When the Wild Card winner comes from a division like the AL East, it means that despite a tougher schedule they likely managed to play better than one of the other two division winners throughout the season. A second Wild Card winner, didn’t do this.
What I do like about the new system is that it does give an extra day or two of rest to the teams that won their divisions and puts an added importance to doing so.
Overall, I feel as though too much emphasis is put on the arbitrarily geographic divisions that were put in place at a time when air travel and the like weren’t as common as they are now. Division rivalries are great, and the additional games against individual teams who play somewhat nearby are great, but fairness is infinitely better. Playing 18 games against the Los Angeles Angels, Oakland Athletics, Seattle Mariners and Houston Astros is unlikely to ever be comparable to playing 18 games against the Yankees, Red Sox, Rays and Orioles.
Update: According to the L.A. Times:
Teams are expected to play 72 games — 18 each — against division opponents, 60 against teams in their league’s other two divisions and 30 interleague games.
Thanks to Latrell in the comments section for the link.