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Revamping MLB’s post-season format

A quick look at two proposals to expand Major League Baseball’s Wild Cards.

I fully acknowledge being a baseball traditionalist. As such, I was not excited about the institution of the Wild Card in MLB. After some time, I now admit that it has been effective in prolonging fan interest and therefore, putting more money into the owners’ coffers.

My main beef moved to the format itself, which I have always strongly felt devalues the first-place finishers by giving them just one more home game than the Wild Card entrant. Having a five-game Division series instead of a seven-game set has also rubbed me the wrong way.

Here in 2010, we have already seen one Wild Card team, the New York Yankees, dispatch a division winner, the Minnesota Twins, in three quick games.

As we learned when the 2011 schedule was announced, next season will begin early – on Thursday, March 31, a half-week sooner than the traditional Monday start. This may have been designed to buy more time for October baseball.

That is what Chicago Trib’s Phil Rogers believes as part of a plan by MLB to expand the playoffs starting this coming year. One big reason why? Money, of course. In-house outlet MLB Network can then elbow up to the post-season broadcasting table.

It would also be consistent with recent comments from commissioner Bud Selig, who in addition to taking frequent bows over the addition of the Wild Card, also notes that MLB has the lowest percentage of playoff participants of major sports and favors a growth in October (and November) ball.

As an aside, I wonder when MLB will make more money from their Advanced Media ventures than from running the teams themselves. As a journalist, I fear the expanding role of the owners of a league self-reporting, with its inherent risks of stifling objectivity, but that is a subject for another day.

Anyway, Rogers suggests two possible formats are under consideration.

1)     A play-in, best-of-three series between the two Wild Card clubs in each league.

2)     A one-game play-in between the two.

The former seems fairer to me than a single winner-take all contest, but even it would not be without controversy. The division winners would have to wait for at least a half-week, which could either be good (resting starters and revamping rotation order) or bad (entire team sitting for the better part of a week getting rusty).

Nothing was yet said about the Division Series and Championship Series mix, but I hope they would make two other changes at the same time as the Wild Card is expanded. First, give the division winners at least a 5-2 home advantage over any Wild Cards and second, increase the DS to seven games.

One other consideration is the removal of potential game 163’s, tiebreaker or play-in contests. The thinking is that they would in effect add a fourth level of post-season play. In other words, too much. Instead, an NFL-style of regular-season tiebreaker based on season series and division record may be implemented, Rogers reports.

On one hand, it would eliminate exciting play-in games like when the Twins and White Sox tied in 2008. Better though would be recognizing what occurred during the 162-game season and giving the berth to the superior team over the previous six months. Overall, I think this proposed change would be positive.

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Brian Walton

Brian Walton runs The Cardinal Nation and The Cardinal Nation Blog, covering the St. Louis Cardinals and minor league system.
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