This post first appeared on BaseballDigest.com
Next week, the owners of Major League Baseball will conduct their Winter Meetings in Lake Buena Vista, Florida to discuss, among other things, the possibility of introducing an expanded postseason that would include 10 teams, rather than the 8 team system currently in place.
In 1995, MLB implemented the Wild Card, expanding the postseason to include a Division Series, with match ups based on win loss records unless the match up involves a wild card team and division winner that are in the same division.
Though details have not yet been hammered out, the latest expansion would involve two more Wild Card teams, including a one game playoff to provide incentive for teams to play to win their division rather than simply play to win the Wild Card.
In the opinion of this writer, MLB is close but might miss the mark in addressing the conundrum of the implications of Wild Card teams in the postseason structure of today.
As it stands, a Division Series is a best of five series, with the winner moving on to the Championship Series. As history has noted, many Championship Series have changed course in the pivotal game four of a series after one team has lost three straight. For example, 2004 was not long ago, and it changed the lives of millions of fans in New England. With a five game series, it is arguable that a team with less overall strength can actually benefit with needing to win just three games to move on.
Major League Baseball should opt not to implement a 10 team postseason system, but instead change the structure to better display the talent of the game. The hope here is they will do it in such a way that truly puts the best talent against each other. To capture this more succinctly, the Division Series should be expanded to seven games,rather than adding more Wild Cards. The one game playoffs for Wild Card teams admittedly offers an element of ‘Win or Go Home’ that coincides with the playoff feel of the National Football League postseason, but this will not greatly effect the problem with the Division Series overall.
On the flip side of the coin is if the two Wild Cards are added in addition to the expansion of the Division Series. The seven game Division Series will provide a true test of a teams, and the teams awarded with a second Wild Card berth will be forced to play their best players in the one game playoff. A team that must consider starting an ace for the Wild Card playoff offers a potential benefit for the division winner in the Division Series. As lining up a rotation is critical for teams, the onus on winning the division is that much greater, and could greatly impact whether or not teams play hard throughout the season. Though a great potential is here, Commissioner Bud Selig has indicated he has great disdain for baseball being played in November. The addition of Wild Card teams and a series expansion seems unlikely.
The other implication of these changes concern the teams that win the Wild Card playoff berths. In theory, the additional Wild Cards will be awarded to two more teams that would not reach the postseason. In practice, this would very possibly include a postseason that features three teams from the American League East, rather than any of the number of teams that struggle on the field and financially in the other AL divisions.
The MLB postseason has evolved several times in history, and the latest possible change could be great for sport, if done the best way possible that showcases the talents of the game and offers teams incentives for playing hard all year long.