If you can remember all the way back to 2011, you might recall that as part of the new collective bargaining agreement with its players association, Major League Baseball will expand its playoff structure to not one, but two Wild Card teams. When such an exciting possibility was first announced, it wasn’t known how quickly the policy shift would be introduced. In fact, the only definitive part of the original announcement was that something would be decided by March 1st.
With the owners meeting in Arizona this week, and not expected to meet again before the self-imposed deadline, it’s expected that they’ll discuss and decide on whether or not to expand the playoffs in time for the coming season or wait until 2013.
For the sake of clarity, the new system would give playoff berths to not only the three division winners, but also the winner of a one game playoff between the two next best teams.
What I don’t like about this system is that it 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 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. I like that the regular season gets more respect under this system, but at the same time, the potential existed to do away with the strange three division set up and compete under a more fair and balanced schedule. If that were the case, I could fully embrace giving division winners an advantage.
For the record, the regular season is scheduled to conclude on October 3rd this year, with the playoffs, no matter the format, set to begin shortly after.