Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Expanded Playoffs Looking Likely for 2012

According to Ken Rosenthal of fox Sports, MLB is going to announce that the MLB playoffs will expand from eight to ten teams starting with the 2012 season: 
Ken Rosenthal: Sources: Additional wild cards a "go" for this season. Playoffs to expand from eight to 10 teams. Announcement tomorrow.
Others are saying that the arrangement is not official yet, but that they would be shocked if it didn't happen.  If by some chance, it doesn't happen for 2012, it will definitely start in 2013.  The plan is to have three division winners and two wild cards in each league.  The two wild cards will then meet in a one-game playoff to determine which of them continues on to the seven-game divisional series.

Commissioner Bud Selig says that the new playoff set-up is more "fair".  However, I believe the primary reason behind the move is that single elimination games are exciting and will attract a lot of fan interest.  Consequently, this plan will generate a lot of television revenue for MLB.  I personally don't care whether MLB increases their profits.  I am more concerned whether this move is good for the game and my feelings are mixed.

My first thought upon hearing about expanded playoffs last year was that it is silly and gimmicky.  I am not a fan of a one-game playoff in baseball because it can give an unfair advantage to a team with a more favorable one-game pitching match-up.  Baseball is a marathon rather than a sprint and one game isn't enough to decide anything.

Consider the following scenario: The Tigers battle the Indians to the wire and are tied going into game 162.  They use Justin Verlander on three days rest hoping to clinch the division.  Verlander loses 1-0 and the Indians win their game.  The Tigers win 97 games and finish in second place.  Meanwhile, the Yankees win just 89 games, finish five games behind the Rays and have ace C.C. Sabathia well rested for the playoff game versus the Tigers.  The Tigers probably had the better season, but are at a distinct disadvantage in the one-game playoff.

while I am not a fan of a one-game playoff, there is some upside to the plan.  Winning the division becomes more meaningful because no team is going to want to play in a one-game playoff if they have a chance to win the division.  There will be no more backing into the wild card spot the way the Tigers seemed to do in 2006.  Division titles should count for something and now they should count for a lot. 

Another option would be to have the wild card teams meet in a series of games just like a regular playoff.  That would remove the potential unfairness of a one-game match-up.  The problem there is that the three division winners in each league would then have to sit around and perhaps get rusty before their playoffs began.   Again, think of 2006 when the Tigers had a week off before the World Series.  This would take away the advantage of winning the division title which I see as the main benefit of the new plan.

So, it's going to be two wild cards meeting in a one-game showdown.  I'm always leery of seeing MLB tinkering with a good thing and this seems really gimmicky on the surface.  However. I can see enough good in this to not complain too much.  I believe that regular season titles should be at least as significant as the post-season and this is a positive move in that direction.

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