Expanding and Changing the MLB Playoffs: Time to Add More Wild Card Teams
Thursday June 9, 2011
MLB reports: Ever since the players’ strike of 1994 and ensuing realignment of baseball and expanded playoff format (implemented as of 1995), continual debates have raged in baseball circles as to the next round of changes. With everyone still talking today on the topic of wild cards and expanding the MLB playoffs, MLB reports is ready to take this topic head on to find the solution.
MLB realignment was already covered by us in a recent feature. After 16 seasons under the current format, clearly changes are needed. Our realignment post was just the beginning of the long process to reform and revitalize Major League Baseball. The next step is expanding the amount of wild card teams and changing parts of the MLB playoffs format which will be discussed today. From there, expansion is required to produce 32 total teams, 16 per division which will be covered on MLB reports on another day. Stay tuned.
The current MLB playoffs structure essentially looks like this:
Eight total teams make the playoffs
Four teams per league
One wild card team per league
The Division Series (ALCS and NLCS) is a best of five games format
The winners from the ALCS and NLCS advance to the League Championship Series (ALCS and NLCS)
The ALCS and NLCS are both a best of seven games series, winner of each advance to the World Series
World Series is a best of seven, home field based on winner of All Star Game
As part of revamping the system, it is apparent from whispers around baseball that two more wild card teams are about to be added to the mix. As a result there will now be ten total teams that make the playoffs, five per league. Taking the home field talk out of the equation, which is an article in itself, the issue today is the number of teams to make the playoffs and the best format for each playoff series.
I am writing today’s article from a realistic point of view. When I discussed realignment a couple of weeks back, it was from a hopeful and practical standpoint, but with the idea that baseball would be unlikely to accept most of my changes. For a game known for its long-standing traditions, the winds of change blow very slowly through baseball. I am presenting the revamped playoffs with the idea that Major League Baseball will not change too much. While it would be nice to have anywhere for 12-16 teams to make the playoffs according to some fans and analysts, the chances of that happening are close to nil. It was a big change to add the two wild card teams back in 1994 and only two more wild card teams will be added in the next year or so at most. Period. There are some that may want more, but it will not happen.
On the same token, the best of five vs. seven game series debating is raging as well. Some people do not agree with the short five games series in the opening round, as it creates a scenario whereby a top team can be bounced early without the ability to play a full seven games series. This topic will be addressed, but we will have to assume that likely the opening rounds will remain a best of five games series and only the League Championship and World Series would be a best of seven games series. Again this may not be the best option for all, but it is what it is and baseball is unlikely to bend on this as well.
The last point to make before going through my playoff scenarios is the home field advantage debate, specifically awarding it based on the All Star game outcome. Most traditionalists, yours truly included, despise this format. The best team in baseball should be rewarded for a seasons worth of games played and not have home field determined based on the results of a high-profile exhibition game. After the All-Star game finished in a tie in Milwaukee during the 2002 season, baseball was left with egg on its face and scrambled to give the game more meaning. The decision to award the World Series home advantage based on the winner of the All Star game has been argued by many to have failed to give the All Star game more meaning. But assuming that this format stays in place, an injustice to the teams that finish with better records after season’s end will remain.
In adding two more wild card teams, an additional round of the playoffs will go into effect. The opening round, which we can call the wild card round for simplicity, will have the two wild card teams in each league face-off (most likely a best of five). The winner of the wild card round will advance to the Division Series. From there, the current playoff format would remain in place, with the best of five games Division Series leading to the League Championship and World Series. Part of me is inclined to allow the top seeded team in each league to have an automatic bye into the League Championship Series, with the wild card teams facing off in the Division Series and the 2nd and 3rd seeded teams in each league facing off as well in the Division Series. Allowing each top seed to have a bye directly into the League Championship would reward the highest winning team in each league. But issues would arise, including arguments that two byes for each top team would be too great of a reward and how to determine if there are ties for the top record in each league.
As a result, to keep things simple, baseball will simply have to institute a 4th round of playoffs. In my estimation, the Wild Card Round can be a best of five games, with every other round moving to a best of seven. While baseball unfortunately will likely keep the division series as a best of five games, a move to a best of seven would create more balance in making sure that the true “top” teams advance. Major League Baseball will still have to consider a way to reward the top winning team in each league eventually and that will likely be by creating a first-round bye in a further expanded playoff format, when more wild card teams are added. But until that time, the top winning teams will simply have to enjoy home field advantage. That advantage should continue right into the World Series and it is the hope of this analyst that baseball will realize that one day.
So as we head into another new world of baseball changes, I can’t foresee that the game as we know it today will get completely blown up and redone. Even though the game may need more fine tuning, most changes will come along very slowly. The expanding of the playoffs will be a good thing ultimately for the game, as each team plays a whopping 162 regular season games plus spring training and more teams deserve to be rewarded with playoff berths. An expanded playofs will give teams a better chance to make the playoffs and increase the number of cities and fans involved in the playoff races come September. Adding two more wild card teams is the next logical step and it looks like it will go into effect as soon as 2012. With so many of the other major sports in turmoil, it is good to see baseball alive and healthier than ever. It looks like Major League Baseball has learned its lessons after 1994. Hopefully the game will only continue to move forward and cement itself once again as the greatest sport in the world.
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