On Friday, March 2, 2012, MLB and commissioner Bud Selig have agreed to expand their postseason format to 10 teams, adding an extra wild-card spot in each league. There will now be a new one game wild-card playoff between the two wild-card winners, the 4th and 5th seeds. The division winners will get a bye albeit for one game. This gives incentive to teams to win their division instead of just being content with making the postseason via the wild-card, because now the one game playoff will be much harder to win compared to the previous best of 5 divisional round. “This change increases the rewards of a division championship and allows two additional markets to experience playoff baseball each year,” Commissioner Bud Selig said in a statement.
In 1969, MLB adopted a playoff format because the league expanded to 12 teams in both the American and National leagues. The League Championship Series as it was dubbed pitted the two teams with the best records to face each other in a best of 5 game series. Prior to this the team with the best record from the American and National League faced each other in the World Series. In 1985 the LCS expanded to a best of 7 series. In 1994, MLB realigned the league consisting of 3 divisions in each league. Since 3 teams making the playoffs was not an even number MLB added a wild-card team to the mix. Unfortunately in 1994 the player’s union went on strike and there was no postseason that year, so the wild-card format came to fruition in 1995. There were talks of expanded the playoff system in 2011 given the terms of the new CBA. On March 2, 2012 it became a reality and there will now be an extra wild-card team added to each league.
The new playoff format will undoubtedly make teams want to win their division. Anything is possible in a one game playoff and nobody will want to take their chances. The teams that have to play in the play-in game will be forced to go with their staff ace. Who wouldn’t want their best pitcher on the hill? This however puts a burden on the team going forward into the next round of the playoffs because they will have used their ace already and will have to pit their #2 starter up against the division winners #1. Teams with pitching depth may not mind this as much, but it is without question that anybody playing in a postseason series would want their ace available for game one of any series making it possible for them to pitch 3 times in a 7 game series.
This new system will benefit teams that are in tough divisions who were mostly dominated by 2 teams. The AL east and the NL east will be most grateful for the expansion of the playoff system, just ask the Atlanta Braves and Boston Red Sox. Both teams missed the playoffs by 1 game last year and had this system been put in place they would have taken a part in the postseason festivities. It is possible now for 3 teams in a division to make the playoffs. It deems likely that it will happen in the AL east with the Rays, Red Sox, and Yankees all making a postseason bid. A division like the NL east could also see 3 teams make the same push with the dominate Phillies, the young and talented Braves, and the new-look Miami Marlins.
In general the new system is better for MLB because a lot of people who watch the postseason don’t necessarily follow baseball throughout the year, which is similar for many sports. Baseball is the longest season of any sport and it makes sense that many people cannot follow a team for 162 games in 180 days. The postseason however is widely watched and adding to the playoff format will mean more viewers. More viewers means more ratings. More ratings means more money for MLB. Being that this new playoff format will feature a play-in game it will most likely get many viewers to tune in and watch this win or go home game. There has been talk the past few years that small market teams making the postseason and ultimately playing in the World Series have hurt TV ratings. So what was mentioned earlier may not be true, but small market teams are now getting a chance to be relevant. Teams that have been overshadowed by their division juggernauts can now make a run. The Tampa Bay Rays the past couple of years have really made a name for themselves and I’m sure have acquired many new fans. So it is possible that small market teams making the postseason a couple times in the next decade can raise their status just a little bit.
The new addition of wild-card spots is definitely going to be exciting giving an extra team in each league a chance to compete or win a World Series. Since the addition of the first postseason with wild-card spots 10 teams have made it to the World Series. Of those 10 teams 5 have went on to win the World Series with the Cardinals doing it most recently. The Marlins have done it twice in 1997 and in 2003 so I’m sure they are thrilled with this new format. In 2002 two wild-card teams made it to the World Series where the Angels beat the Giants in game 7. From 2002 to 2004 all World Series winners were wild-card teams. They are usually the hottest teams coming into the playoffs because the last few weeks are almost like playoffs for them. Only time will tell how this new format plays out for each market, but it will definitely be intriguing to watch.