MLB Unvels New Playoff Format

MLB Unvels New Playoff Format
Changes to Major League Baseball continue to arrive at a dizzying pace. Well, if you consider a change that marks 18 years since the last change to be dizzying.

With the closing of the most recent Collective Bargaining Agreement last year, we knew that the Houston Astros would be moving to the American League, giving us two balanced fifteen-team circuits; and we knew that starting in 2013 the post-season was going to be expanded with each league adding another wild-card team. Finally this week Commissioner Bud Selig, who wanted to include the wilder cards this season, got his wish, as he usually does.

Because the 2012 schedule is already set and TV is what really calls the shots (as in all professional sports), the decision to go with an additional wild-card play-in game had to be made this week. The Players’ Association had its questions, but those were evidently answered.

That’s not the only change: henceforth, divisional winners will be determined on the field. Previously, various tie-breakers were employed (e.g., head-to-head); in 2006 that resulted in both the Detroit Tigers and Minnesota Twins making the playoffs when the two finished the season with identical records atop the AL Central: the Twins won the division based on their better season series, the Tigers were awarded the wild card and used that to make a run to the World Series, where they ultimately lost to the St. Louis Cardinals. In 2010, the Twins and Tigers once again found themselves tied for first after the 162 game regular season: this time, however, they needed to play a game since the Boston Red Sox had landed the wild card. We were treated to one of the great games of recent memory as the Twins beat the Tigers in a see-saw, extra-innings match.

As so happened in 2011, when MLB staged its greatest Game 162 night ever, the last game was played on a Wednesday night instead of the typical Sunday ending of the regular season, so it will be in 2012 with another Wednesday night end. Now however Thursday will be reserved for any divisional deciders, and Friday will be the wild card game, with the Divisional Series beginning on Saturday (in the AL) and Sunday (in the NL).

Alas, the tight TV-determined scheduling has presented us with a possible discontinuity, as the lower seeds will host the first two games of the LDS (in both series). Since these are five game series, it brooks the possibility that the teams in both leagues with the best records, possible 100-game winners, will only get one playoff game at home. That is an unappetizing prospect. It also means that the superior regular-season teams will be spending the day before the LDS at the airport, so to speak, waiting to see which city will be their destination. It should be pointed out that this will only hold for 2012, but in the event we get a result such as I have outlined there will be plenty of grousing.

Another interesting and long-overdue feature of the new set-up is that the wild card play-in winner will play the top seed, even if they are in the same division, which means we wouldn’t have to wait for a Yankees-Red Sox series. Now they need to fix the DH rule and we will be ready to go for 2013!

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