If you’re a devout follower of baseball’s wild card system as it’s existed since 1994 - and if a 17-year-old system can have devout followers - you should enjoy the 2012 season. Because as the system hits age 18, it’s apparently ready to graduate.
Major League Baseball’s owners voted unanimously today to approve the sale of the Houston Astros from Drayton McLane to Jim Crane. And as part of that deal, the Astros will move from the National League Central to the American League West for the 2013 season.
That year - and that move - will also trigger a pair of other significant changes in the baseball landscape. Because there will be five teams in each division and 15 in each league - instead of six teams in the NL Central and 16 in the NL against 14 in the AL - baseball will spread its interleague schedule across the entire season. Otherwise, one team would have had to be off each day to get to an even number of teams.
The most significant change, though, might be what’s happening at the end of the season; commissioner Bud Selig told reporters at the general managers meetings in Milwaukee today that baseball will add an extra wild card team in each league for the 2013 season, pitting the two wild card winners against each other in a one-game playoff. It adds additional drama to the postseason, but as the conclusion of the 2011 season - when four teams were still battling to reserve their playoff spots into the final hours of the regular season - proved, baseball often doesn’t need help manufacturing drama.
This, of course, could be something that helps the Nationals; the wild card came out of the NL East in 2010, and the Braves almost won the spot again in 2011. Under the new system, the Braves would have gone to the playoffs and faced the Cardinals in a one-game playoff. And in a tough NL East, the Nationals wouldn’t be eliminated from the playoffs just because they finished third, as the Red Sox were last year.
But on the other hand, the system would have put the Cardinals - the eventual world champions - in a nine-inning battle for their lives. In baseball’s world of day-to-day rhythms and long season arcs, a do-or-die showdown almost feels jarring.
What do you think of the new system? Do you like that it brings playoff excitement to more teams, or is it taking away from the integrity of the playoffs? Let me know in the comments section.
One thing’s for sure these days: In a sport that has often been slow to embrace new ideas, change seems to be the only constant.