Monday, April 25, 2011

MLB Playoff Expansion and the Twins

(Photo: Getty Images)
There has been a lot of talk in the last week of expanding the playoffs for Major League Baseball. This comes after reports from the Commissioner's Office that the league is "inexorably" moving toward adding another wild-card team from each league starting in 2012. This means there will be five teams that qualify for the playoffs from each league, the three division winners and two wild card teams. This will bump the total number of playoff teams from eight to ten.

There have been many good teams in recent years across baseball that have fell short of qualifying for the postseason. From baseball's perspective, There will be an increase revenue by adding two playoff teams and series. There will be more games to televise, more commercial endorsements, and more national attention with a longer playoff format. There will also be other positives for people that are involved with the sport of baseball. More managers will be able to claim they have guided their team to the postseason. General managers will be able to show that they can make the right moves to create a playoff caliber team. Players will be able to show their value or lack of value in high pressure situations.

There are many that are a few negatives that accompany the positives listed above. One of the strengths of the sport of baseball is the weight the long regular season schedules plays on the teams that qualify for the postseason. It is a privilege to make it to postseason play in MLB.  In all of the other major sports there is a far higher percentage of teams that make the playoffs. The NFL has 12 teams in postseason play, while both the NBA and NHL each have a whopping 16 teams fighting for the title. The other concern with expanding the playoffs is the season could go even deeper into the colder months. Bad weather can be an issue with October and November games. Adding more teams only makes the baseball schedule sneak closer to the winter months.

The layout of this new 10-team tournament is yet to be official decided but there are a few different formats that have been discussed.

Three-Game Wild Card Series
In this format, the two wild card teams from both the AL and the NL would face off in a best of three series. The winner of that series would be playing for the right to face the overall number one seed from each league. This would give the overall number one seed more time to get their rotation in order. It also has the chance to wear down some of the players from the wild card teams.

One-Game (Winner Takes All) Play-In
The other format that is a possibility is a one game showdown between the fourth and fifth seed from each league. These wild card teams would put everything on the line in a one game playoff for a chance to continue on in the tournament. This would force the wild card teams to use their best pitchers to advance. It would also allow for a lot of drama that could increase ratings for the do-or-die format.

In recent memory, the Twins have seen their season come down to a decisive one-game playoff. Game 163 in 2008 did not end up the way the Twins wanted with Jim Thome, the current Twins slugger, providing the only run of the game for the White Sox. The very next year the Twins were able to be victorious in an epic extra-inning affair to cap a wonderful last season at the Metrodome. Being on the losing and winning side of a one-game play-in has allowed the Twins to see the entire picture when it comes to that type of game.

There are positives and negatives to both of these formats but it seems as if some in the Twins organization are in favor of having a three-game series. As Ron Gardenhire told the Star Tribune, "It seems like an awful lot of baseball to go to a one-game shootout." The Twins want to stay away from as many one-game shootouts as possible. Expanding the playoffs by adding the three-game wild card series could be the best way for the Twins to avoid another stressful Game 163 situation.

Overall, it is inevitable that baseball will be expanding it's playoff format in the near future. The players aren't going to fight against adding two teams to the playoffs and the owners are always going to be in favor of earning more money. Many fans feel the current playoff format is the best that it can be. There are always going to be teams that are left on the outside looking in at the playoffs. That is one of the great things about the lengthy 162-game schedule in baseball. A team has the entire length of that schedule to get themselves in the position to qualify for the postseason. Change is coming to the playoff format but it does not mean that it is positive for all parties involved. Baseball is a sport that prides itself on great tradition over the years and MLB should heed this advice, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it."

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