As we await Major League Baseball and the Players’ Union to agree on an expanded playoff system for 2012, the reaction to an additional wild card team in each league seems positive.
The new system could open doors for divisions like the American League East where it’s conceivable for three teams to have 90-plus wins. It would allow the best teams in baseball postseason berths, regardless if they play in a strong division or not.
Since the addition of the wild card in 1995, situations like what happened to the 1993 San Francisco Giants, have been somewhat avoided. That year the Giants won 103 games, but failed to make the playoffs because the Braves, who were in the National League West at the time, won 104.
Since 1995, six wild card teams have won the World Series: the 1997 Marlins, 2002 Angels, 2003 Marlins, 2004 Red Sox, and 2011 Cardinals. Five other wild card teams have won the pennant, proving division winners aren’t always the best team in the race.
The addition of two wild card teams in 2012 would be a good marketing move for baseball. More teams in the postseason, even if it is for one playoff game, means more fans get to see their clubs make the playoffs.
Thursday, in Sarasota, Orioles manager Buck Showalter reminded the media decisions like this should be fan based.
“What do the fans want? What enhances their love of our game?” Showalter said. “That’s the bottom line. And whatever it is, we embrace it. Whether it’s interleague play, whether it’s the DH or not the DH, whether it’s playing a 12 o’clock game on the west coast so they can get to the game. Whatever. Suck it up. That’s really the deciding factor for me.”
Some baseball purists are against expanding the playoff field. Then again, baseball purists are against every change. The same argument arose when instant replay was instituted for home runs in 2008. Many said it would slow the game down, or take out the human element of umpiring. Four years later fans are used to pausing while umpires review a long ball. Instant replay is becoming a part of baseball culture, just as it has been part of football’s culture for years.
“Can you imagine playing a football game now in the NFL without instant replay?” Showalter said. “At the time, people thought, ‘Oh God, this is going to ruin the game.’ First thing you do is you don’t watch something as closely because you know the replay is coming. Same way with home runs.
“They polled managers and coaches, and almost to a man they wanted as much replay as you can get in the game. When you’re talking about playoffs, I’m for anything the fans kind of like. And I know they’ve researched it a lot.”
Thursday, Orioles reliever Jim Johnson told MLB Radio he was all for the new system.
“It puts an emphasis on winning the division,” Johnson said.
Under the current system, division winners don’t have any advantage or reward for their hard earned 162-game first place finish. They don’t get a first-round bye like top seeds in the NFL playoffs.
The new system would penalize wild card winners in a way by forcing the wild card teams to play each other. Both have to burn their ace. Then the winner of that game must adjust their rotation as they prepare to face a fresh division winner in the ALDS or the NLDS.
I personally like the new system. I hate to see situations where a team with 95 wins might not make the playoffs because they are in a strong division. Meanwhile, a team with 92 wins in a weaker division can play in the postseason.
The expanded field will give the best teams in baseball a fair shot to get to a World Series. Isn’t that what we want to see?