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Major League Baseball made the expansion of its postseason format official on Friday by granting each of its leagues an additional Wild Card berth beginning this season. The move — which had been a hot topic going back to last season — means that ten teams will now participate in the always-incredible drama that is: October baseball.
This marks the sport’s first playoff expansion since 1994, when the first original Wild Card teams were added to the mix. However, due to the strike that cancelled the postseason that year, the change did not actually take place until the 1995 playoffs. The Players Association was required to sign off on the proposition before any changes were made, and it did so painlessly.
“I greatly appreciate the MLBPA’s cooperation in putting the new postseason format in place this year,” said Commissioner Bud Selig on Friday. “The enthusiasm for the 10-team structure among our clubs, fans and partners has been overwhelming.”
In the new system, the Wild Card winners in each league will face off in a one game playoff on Friday, October 5, opening postseason play. As long as weather does not become an issue, all four Division Series will begin over the following two days.
“I’m excited, because it leans more heavily on the integrity of a season than the other system and I think everybody felt the same way,” said Angels manager Mike Scioscia. “Hopefully, it leans on that integrity a little more heavily and I think that’s a good thing.”
The winner of the Wild Card round will also have an unusual advantage in this year’s Division Series. Because the 2012 regular season schedule was created before this agreement was finalized, time constraints did not allow for the customary two travel days that would be necessary in a five game Division Series.
The Division Series has always gone with a 2-2-1 format that favors the higher seed. However, since two getaway days won’t be possible, the league will go to a 2-3 arrangement that has the lower seed – one of two inevitably being a Wild Card team – hosting the first two games.
With the Division Series being a best three out of five, as opposed to four out of seven in the League Championship Series and the World Series, it is possible that a Wild Card team could advance to the LCS by playing just one road game beforehand.
MLB ensures that it will construct a schedule that never allows for this unfair competitive advantage to occur again, beginning in 2013. The LCS and World Series will continue to remain best four out of seven series with 2-3-2 formats.
Five Wild Card winners have hoisted the World Series trophy since baseball first allowed two more teams to crash the postseason party nearly 20 years ago — the 1997 and 2003 Florida Marlins, 2002 Anaheim Angels, 2004 Boston Red Sox, and just recently, the 2011 St. Louis Cardinals, who had a storybook ending after trailing the Atlanta Braves by 10.5 games in the Wild Card standings as late as August 25.
All it takes is a chance. St. Louis clinched the Wild Card and its opportunity to compete in the postseason on the final day of the 2011 season. New manager Mike Matheny believes that adding two more teams will be great for the sport.
“Everybody remembers day 162 last year and how exciting that was,” said Matheny. “We all see the benefit of how the Wild Card played out.
“There were a lot of people against it at the time and it proved to make some very meaningful games for some teams who otherwise wouldn’t have had anything going on. It will be fun to watch how it all plays out.”