That’s right Bud, according to a joint announcement from Major League Baseball and its players association, effective for this coming season, the number of playoff teams per league has increased from four to five, with three division winners and two wild card teams gaining entry to the post season.
When such an exciting possibility was first announced as part of the new collective bargaining agreement, 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.
In order to make the new playoff structure a reality for the 2012 season, the division winners with the best records will be visitors for the first two games of the division series, and then have home field advantage for the final three. To alleviate the scheduling jam, this will give two guaranteed home playoff games for the Wild Card team and the weakest of the division winners, and only one guaranteed home game for the strongest division winners.
After this season, MLB will go back to a 2-2-1 format. As well, division winners and Wild Card winners from the same division will now be allowed to meet in the division series.
Essentially, the new format 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.
As I’ve written before, what I don’t like about this system, aside from this year’s wonky scheduling, 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 both of the one game playoffs set for October 5th.