Major League Baseball has officially announced the addition of two wild card teams to its playoff format. The league’s owners and players’ union have agreed to add one team from both the National League and the American League, making 10 playoff teams in total. With three division winners and two wild cards from each league, the two additional teams will play in a one-game knockout round to determine who will advance to the Division Series.
Most baseball traditionalists are still upset with the creation of the wild card in 1994, so it comes as no surprise that the old-time fans disagree with the latest evolution of the sport also. They believe that only the division winners should be allowed into the post-season. Prior to 1994, only four teams made the playoffs, the winners of the East and West Divisions in the American and National Leagues. Traditionalists don’t see the wild card as a deserving candidate for the World Series, being unable to rise above the teams in its own division. In their mind, an expansion to 10 playoff teams is a step in the wrong direction.
In addition, some fans have trouble grasping that the fate of a 162-game season can be ultimately decided by single elimination showdown. The criticism is that their teams earned a spot in the postseason, and should be treated to a full series to determine a true winner, rather than a single elimination game.
However, the purpose of the restructuring is to add more significance to the season itself. Last year, it appeared as though the playoff teams were decided heading into the last month, which is exactly when discussions of playoff expansion intensified. In the end, an epic run by the St. Louis Cardinals and a dramatic collapse by the Boston Red Sox gave fans the most exciting night of regular season baseball they may ever see. With more playoff spots, more races will come down to the final game, and instead of turning their attention to NFL football, more baseball fans will be following their teams late into September.
More importantly, it gives added value to teams winning the division by avoiding the knockout game and being able to start their ace pitcher in Game 1 of the Division Series. The wild card teams will each have added travel time and will have to use pitchers in the one-game elimination in order to make the next round.
Moreover, the prolonged attention and additional excitement will increase revenues and television ratings, making the change attractive to the league’s owners. The players crave post-season baseball and aren’t about to turn down an increased probability at playing in primetime.
I have my concerns about a one-game elimination between the two wild card teams, but the alternatives aren’t much better. I would love to see a three or five game series, but that amount of time off can become a disadvantage for the division winners. Winning the division should provide more of an edge than home-field advantage; playoff expansion addresses that problem.
Ultimately, I believe the wild card round will yield some of the most exciting baseball we have seen to date. With the increased sophistication of front offices around the league, there are more competitive teams that deserve a shot at the World Series. The wild card games will not feature second-rate talent by any stretch. To the same end, the increased playoff probability will make teams more aggressive in their team building as more clubs view themselves as contenders.
For example, Canada’s team, the Toronto Blue Jays, is one team that will benefit greatly from the new format. In the extremely competitive American League East, the rising Blue Jays are a real threat to contend with this season.
Even if some fans and baseball traditionalists are reluctant to accept the additions, there’s one thing that’s certain: it’s going to be an exciting year for baseball.