After a longer than expected set of negotiations with the players union, MLB commissioner Bud Selig got his wish of additional teams in the playoffs. One wild card team will be added to each league, with the two wild cards in each league playing each other in a one game playoff in order to advance to the divisional round.
The issue for implementing the expansion in 2012 was that the 8-team postseason schedule was already baked, making the accommodation of even one game per league difficult. Two or three Saturdays ago, one of the MLB Network shows did a segment on the logistical trickiness. Going into this year, the 2012 postseason schedule looked like this:
That puts the play-in game on either the 4th or 5th, with the knowledge that the 4th may be used for a division winner playoff. It sets up a situation where, this year, an AL East team could, if tied for the division lead after game 162, play game #163 on the 4th, lose, then travel across the country to play the Angels on the 5th for the wild card playoff, then fly back across the country to host the first two games of a divisional series on the 6th. And that’s assuming that there are no makeup games to accommodate.
To alleviate some of the strain for the wild card winners, just for this year the divisional series will be held in the abhorrent 2-3 format that we detested so much in the early aughts. It’ll go back to the 2-2-1 format next year. One nice change is the elimination of the “teams from the same division can’t play each other in the divisional round” rule.
This expansion may force MLB to consider going back to the regular season schedule that next year starts on April 1/2, 2013 and ends September 29 (April 1 would be the previously traditional Cincinnati home opener). That format would allow for September 30 for game 163 and/or makeup games, a buffer off day, the wild card playoff game on October 2, another travel day, and finally the divisional series starting on Friday, October 4, 2013. If MLB got greedy and decided to make the wild card playoff game a three-game series (which I’m not against), it could also be accommodated. The old CBA calls for the “championship season” (regular season) to last anywhere from 178 to 183 days, not accounting for foreign opening days like the one being held in Japan this year. This year the season last 182 days. A switch back to what I described would be 182 days long.
As great as the last day of the 2011 regular season was, it was probably a once-in-a-generation event and not something we should expect to see regularly. This format change should work as intended, making the divisional win more valuable and making the wild card teams work harder.