Changes to Divisions, Wild Card coming

Major League Baseball announced the approval of the sale of the Houston Astros to Jim Crane this morning along with division and wild card changes for the future.

According to the Associated Press, the MLB’s decision to move the Houston Astros to the American League beginning in 2013 saved Crane’s ownership group roughly $65 million. The move of the Astros from the NL Central to the AL West is designed to balance out the league’s divisions to give them 2 leagues with 3 divisions with 5 teams in division.

What that means for baseball is that beginning in 2013 you are looking at a scheduling model that includes interleague play from beginning to end as that is the only way to balance the schedule with an odd number of teams in each league.

The plan is to maintain the DH for use when American League teams are playing at home and allowing the pitcher to hit when National League teams are playing at home. Which really makes the idea of having a guy like Allen Craig coming off your bench all that more important for a National League club. However, many feel that this is simply a precursor to the Designated Hitter being standardized throughout Major League Baseball and I hate that idea with all of my being. (Can you tell I’m not a fan of the DH?)

Major League Baseball also announced that they would be adding a second wild card in each league beginning at least by the 2013 season, though there is some speculation they will try to plug it in for next year.

Many remember this season how the final day of the season was quite possibly the most dramatic day in MLB history. All that drama wouldn’t have happened with two wild card spots. The final week of the MLB season would have looked and felt completely different. Instead of a dramatic rise to the playoffs, it would have been flat.

While many leagues have looked at changing their playoff format, I’m not a fan of letting more teams into the playoffs. The more teams you let into the playoffs, the more you devalue the regular season. At 162 games, the MLB season is nearly two times longer than the NBA and NHL seasons and over ten times longer than the NFL season. The NBA and NHL let 16 of their 32 teams into the playoffs, the NFL 12 of their 32. The MLB had been the toughest league to earn a playoff spot in, only letting 8 of their 30 teams achieve of a postseason berth.

If you’re going to let everyone in, why play a regular season? Let’s just start with a huge tournament with best of 7 series’ from April to October. Why not? I think if you’re going to expand the postseason, you have to shorten the regular season, but that’s not something they are willing to do.

The speculation by many writers today, while MLB Commissioner Bud Selig says there are many things to be determined about how to implement it, is that the league will have a one-game playoff between the two Wild Card teams to get into the playoffs. I am not a fan of that idea.

First and foremost, it will need time before and after the game to make it happen. Teams will want to play their #1 pitcher in the game, which essentially burns them in the first round of the playoffs making it even more difficult for a team to overcome in the first round. During this time, the other teams are sitting on their couches and losing their edge.

Secondly, I’m a proponent of the idea that it should be hard to get into the playoffs. I think the MLB’s playoff system has been very well executed. I like it better than I like any other league’s playoff format. It’s difficult to get into, but it also allows that team that is still really good but gets stuck behind a juggernaut of a team to get a chance.

As always, we’re going to see how it works out, but for the most part, allowing two wild cards in each league to advance to the playoffs is going to simply shorten the season for a lot of teams. As with the NFL talking about going 18 games while complaining that teams rest players after they clinch a playoff spot, you are essentially making it easier for team’s to clinch and therefore rest players and prepare for the playoffs. Meanwhile, you eliminate some of that drama down the stretch.

Much like NASCAR’s decision to create their own playoff format, this is a gimmick. A gimmick that eliminates real drama and is meant to simply generate it’s own. I hate that.

Color this baseball fan disappointed with this news.