Originally published March 18th, 2012
A few weeks into Spring Training and fans are undoubtedly looking ahead to the season. How does the rotation look? Who’s hitting? Who’s in a slump? We’re all looking at the same thing: Will my team make the playoffs this year?
When Major League Baseball announced their plan to expand the number of playoff teams from 8 to 10, the first thought from fans had to be “10 teams will make the playoffs this year so it just got easier, right?” While the cost of admission just got “cheaper”, the expansion will truly put the best teams in a position to win. I love the change, and more than that, 2013’s realignment adds another kink that will completely change the landscape of Major League Baseball if it’s done right.
* The playoffs go from 8 teams to 10. Instead of one Wild Card per league immediately making the Divisional Playoffs, they’re going to have to play a one game playoff against another team!
- The biggest pro is that it puts the Wild Card teams at an immediate disadvantage. The one game playoff means that the two teams will have to use their #1 starter and push their top relievers for every pitch (depending on how they finished their season in the rotation). That moves the winning team directly into a playoff series a pitcher behind. Why shouldn’t the division winners get an advantage in the playoffs? No one complains about the NFL’s playoff system.
- It creates a Game 7 atmosphere at the start of the playoffs! If you weren’t into the one game playoffs last year, find a new sport. Imagine being in a situation where teams could be fighting for a playoff spot. Exhausted and focussed, fans are rabid to make the playoffs. Congratulations, you’re in. Here’s your one game playoff. Win or go home.
- Ratings. This isn’t a “Play-in Game” like the NCAA tournament. (See, I’m keeping it seasonal if you’re a college basketball fan.) The NCAA play-in game is a virtual consolation/pity game. The extra Wild Cards per league are still going to be great teams! It isn’t like the NFL where a sub .500 team can make the playoffs. A one game playoff is going to pull viewers, and it impacts the rest of the playoffs.
- “It’s not fair.” Don’t think the new Wild Card system is fair? Win your division. There were fans that complained when Commissioner Selig set up the first Wild Card system. Where are those fans now? Expanding the playoffs to include a first Wild Card worked.
* In 2013 MLB will move the Houston Astros from the National League to the American League West, creating two 15-team Leagues. They haven’t decided how they will set the schedules yet. The biggest thing Major League Baseball has to decide is how to split up the schedules with two 15-team Leagues. An uneven amount of teams per League means that MLB will have to expand Interleague play in 2013, but how they want to split it up is still being discussed.
How It Should Look and Why
Everyday Interleague play. This is something that’s going to irke purists, but it makes sense. We already have Interleague play now. When MLB started Interleague play, the matchups saw an immediate attendance and ratings boost. Interleague play’s attendance is still strong — But why? It’s because most fans don’t want to spend $100 to take their family to see the Oakland Athletics play the Seattle Mariners 18 times. What’s the harm in everyday Interleague play? The NFL does it every year, it doesn’t hurt the game or the integrity of the Super Bowl. If anything, everyday Interleague play evens the field. How is the current system fair? Some teams play the Astros, while other teams are playing the Giants and the Phillies. Everyday Interleague play means that teams are going to pay similar schedules across the entire season. It’s about as close to parity as Major League Baseball can get.
Baseball has evolved. We saw the first steps of that evolution when the League expanded into Arizona, Colorado and Florida, then again w/the original Wild Card. They took another step with Interleague play. It’s OK to disagree with Major League Baseball, but try and understand why they’re doing it. Moving to a second Wild Card team and realigning the schedule in a way that creates better competition and scheduling consistency by team is the next step to increasing interest and excitement for the game — and isn’t that what any baseball fan wants? More fans, more fun, and a better future for the game we love.