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Playoff expansion adds some integrity

July 14, 2012
The Mining Journal

Major League Baseball may have stumbled onto a great win-win situation with its expanded playoffs this season.

Financially, nearly every pro sports league must like the idea of expanding its playoffs - more teams playing in the postseason, and just as importantly, more teams vying for a shot at the postseason as tournament time nears.

Revenue, revenue, revenue - that's what it all comes down to, the almighty dollar.

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But playoff expansion usually leaves those of us who follow these sports howling about how they're letting nearly every team in the playoffs, and what's the use of having the best record, and this and that or some other thing.

But the move from four to five playoff teams in each baseball league is going to create some interesting subplots surrounding the main story, which is the race by every team trying to get into the postseason.

That's because a wild card spot won't be the cushy position it has been since it was added in the last expansion of playoffs in 1994.

In the past, the wild card team in each league was on nearly equal footing with the three division winners during the playoffs, the only disadvantage playing on the road in Game 7 of any series.

Baseball has proven to have one of the smallest home-field advantages in pro sports. It's a lot more important to be hot when it comes playoff time and having your key players available rather than on the injured list.

Five of these second-place-in-their-division squads have not only made it to the World Series, but won it all, too. St. Louis, namely, did it last season and three teams won it in as many years nearly a decade ago, according to an Internet search I did.

Now, though, the two wild card teams will have to play each other in a one-and-done preliminary game just to join the division winners.

I don't want to see my Detroit Tigers' season hinge on one game, even if it's at home, especially if the name on the pitcher's back isn't Verlander.

So teams have extra incentive to win their division, making it more like the pre-1994 days when it was win or you don't get in.

Just to illustrate this point, let's say we only have two weeks to go in the regular season right now.

As of the All-Star break, the Los Angeles Angels have the No. 1 wild card spot and Baltimore No. 2, though just a half-game ahead of Tampa Bay, one full game on Cleveland, 1 1/2 games on Detroit and 2 1/2 games on Boston, Toronto and Oakland.

These last half-dozen teams would be happy just to get the No. 2 spot rather than miss the postseason, but the Angels are in a most interesting position. If they get hot, they could win their division and avoid the one-game knockout round. If they go cold, they might not get in at all.

And even though the Indians and Tigers are out of the playoffs at this point, both are less than four games out of first place in the AL Central. The big carrot of avoiding the preliminary game also hangs tantalizingly close for them.

The NL is similar with the top two wild cards just a game apart, but more importantly, three teams in each division no more than 4 1/2 games out of first place.

Fans in these tight divisions will say, "To heck with the wild card and the one-game roll of the dice. We want to win our division!"

And that's the way it should be.

Steve Brownlee can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 246. His email address is sbrownlee@miningjournal.net.

 
 

 

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