In news that was all but confirmed weeks ago, Major League Baseball announced today that it would add a wild card team in each league starting in the 2012. By adding the ninth and tenth teams to the play-offs, baseball hopes to increase casual fan interest, put more emphasis on winning the division, and by extension, make the regular season more meaningful.
“I greatly appreciate the MLBPA’s cooperation in putting the new postseason format in place this year,” Commissioner Bud Selig said on Friday. “The enthusiasm for the 10-team structure among our clubs, fans and partners has been overwhelming.
“This change increases the rewards of a division championship and allows two additional markets to experience playoff baseball each year, all while maintaining the most exclusive postseason in professional sports.”
From a casual fan perspective, something I am not by any means so this is a difficult perspective to take, the additional postseason teams will add a new level of excitement to the game. Much like the original wild card expansion in 1994, the extra possibilities for all teams – including the Padres – can attract new, casual fans to the game. And for a sport that has lost an insurmountable amount of ground to football, any number of new fans is helpful.
Beyond the casual fan interest – and this is what I’m most excited about – the additional play-off spots, and more specifically the method in which these two wild card teams in each league will square off, puts much more emphasis on winning the division. For a team looking to rest their starters in anticipation of the play-offs, a division win as opposed to a wild card victory didn’t matter much. With the new format, the two wild card teams in each league will face each other in a one-game play-off. Essentially the game equals the game seven pressure and the flip-of-a-coin chance. As teams come down the September stretch, there is no doubt they would rather win the division and be guaranteed a five-game series over a one-game series.
Beyond the simple fact that teams will want to win the division, the regular season will mean so much more. Games that previously may not have mattered, will require additional planning, additional consideration. Considering the 162-game season seems to drag to almost a complete stop in July and August*, the changes to the postseason will at least intensify the regular season somewhat.
*I am not among those who thinks the months of July and August equate to the dog days of summer. I love baseball no matter the month, no matter how many games have been played or how many games are left.
I’ve previously discussed why the expanded play-offs are good for San Diego, but now that they are here, I can declare they are good for baseball in general.