Friday was a great day for Major League Baseball, as it finalized its postseason expansion agreement with the Players Association. Beginning this season, two additional Wild Card teams will join the postseason festivities; one in each league.
Under the new format, the two Wild Card winners will face off in a one-game playoff round, with the winning team advancing to the Division Series against one of the three division champions in its league.
In the world of sports where fans and media alike often complain that changes are simply unnecessary, it appears nothing is being protested in this scenario.
Increasing the amount of franchises that compete in October will no doubt turn out to be an excellent move by MLB. And there are plenty of reasons why.
Let’s start with the obvious. We love drama in sports. We love buzzerbeaters in basketball, last second scores that determine the outcome of football games, and walkoff home runs in baseball. It’s always been that way and it should remain so.
There are times when that drama is amplified, and that includes when there are postseason implications at stake; playoff positioning, homefield advantage, and most importantly — championships.
A one game do-or-die setting provides more intensity, suspense, and entertainment than any other point during a sports season. We see it every year with the NFL playoffs and its ultimate conclusion, the most watched event annually, the Super Bowl. When Game 7 is necessary in the basketball or baseball postseason — although this would be Game 5 in MLB’s Division Series — more people tune in than at any other point during the year.
This also shows for a month-long span beginning every March, once the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament gets going.
Bottom line is that one game determining the final fate of two great teams is excellent for sports, and that is exactly what baseball is guaranteeing to display at least twice every year beginning in 2012. It will be a heavyweight fight where one side will ultimately have to out-will the other.
Another way that MLB benefits by bringing in two more Wild Card teams is derived through a newfound importance upon a team winning their division.
It used to be ‘Just get in and hope to get hot.’ Teams will no longer be able to fall back on that with the new system in place. Clinching a Wild Card berth will drastically decrease a team’s chances at winning the World Series, since the probability of making it out of the Wild Card round will essentially be 50-50 in a one game situation.
Now no team who believes that they are legitimate championship contenders will be complacent and use the Wild Card spots as a safety net. They will not want to risk their entire season on one game, because as everyone knows, anything can happen and the better team or team with a pitching advantage will not always win.
Finally, the regular season will become a lot more interesting in the long run. Before the Wild Card came into effect in 1995, teams who were not completely terrible but aware that they had no chance at winning their division, folded and became pathetic all the way up to the final days of the regular season. But from 1995 on, these teams have gained new hope, and five Wild Card teams have gone on to win the World Series – the 1997 and 2003 Florida Marlins, the 2002 Anaheim Angels, the 2004 Boston Red Sox, and just recently, the 2011 St. Louis Cardinals.
The level of competition will begin to rise yet again, as there will be one last chance for new teams to make it to the playoffs. Having more teams be relevant towards the end of the season makes for much more exciting baseball than in years past.
MLB actually got this one right, and everyone will see after the All Star break passes. If you thought you’ve seen it all, just sit back and watch.