With a wave of his mighty finger, Bud Selig recently announced that Major League Baseball has expanded its playoff format, going from an eight-team postseason to ten. Fans everywhere have been discussing why they like or dislike the change. I am on the "like" side of the fence, although my Studious Metsimus colleague, Joey Beartran, is not. (That's okay. We're still cool.)
I have a few reasons why I believe the addition of two wild card teams will be beneficial for baseball. Hopefully, after you read them, you'll be on my side of the fence as well.
In all of the other major sports, mediocre teams are constantly winning championships or making it to the final round or game. Just this past month, the New York Giants won the Super Bowl after going 9-7 in the regular season. This came one year after the Seattle Seahawks won the NFC West with a 7-9 record and defeated the defending Super Bowl champion New Orleans Saints in the playoffs.
In the NBA, the 1980-81 Houston Rockets advanced to the NBA Finals despite finishing the regular season with a losing record (40-42). Had the Rockets lost to their opponent in the Western Conference Finals, the Kansas City Kings, there still would have been a team in the finals with a losing record, as the Kings finished the regular season with an identical 40-42 mark. The Rockets' magical ride ended in the NBA Finals, where they lost to the Boston Celtics in six games. The '80-'81 Rockets were one-upped by two teams in hockey.
The 1948-49 Toronto Maple Leafs won the Stanley Cup after finishing the 60-game regular season with a 22-25-13 record. But eleven years before their unlikely Stanley Cup victory, they lost the championship round to a team that was even worse during the regular season. In 1938, the Chicago Black Hawks (they didn't become the one-word Blackhawks until the 1986-87 campaign) defeated the Maple Leafs to win the Stanley Cup. This unlikely title came on the heels of a 14-25-9 regular season. That's right. The Black Hawks won only 14 of their 48 regular season games, yet they still skated away with the Cup.
Even with the two extra playoff teams, Major League Baseball will still have the fewest teams qualifying for the playoffs in the four major sports. Only one-third of the teams in baseball will be invited to the postseason party, as opposed to 12 in football and 16 each in basketball and hockey. For most teams, a 90-win season would be considered a success. But I'm sure the 90-win Braves would not consider 2011 to be a successful season. Good teams deserve to be rewarded for their performance over the full 162-game campaign. The extra wild card should provide that.
Another reason why I'm in favor of the second wild card is that it will encourage teams to win their division as opposed to just settling for the wild card.
Too many teams in the past have given up on the division title (cough cough, 2010 Yankees, cough cough) to rest their players if they had the wild card to fall back on. Now, with the possibility of their season ending in a one-game, do-or-die wild card game, teams that can still win their division will go all out to win that hat and T-shirt awarded to division champions. Those clothes will not only signify that the team has won a championship (in this case, a division title), but will give them a chance to play in an actual playoff SERIES instead of a playoff GAME, which will give them a better chance to win the World Series.
Division champions should have an easier route to the World Series, as too many wild card teams have won it all over the years. (Since 1995, a total of ten wild card teams have played in the Fall Classic, with five of them winning it all, including last year's Cardinals.) Now, if a wild card team wins the World Series, they will have truly earned it, needing to win an extra postseason game and having to do so without being able to set up their starting rotation in the way they would want.
Without question, the addition of an extra wild card team in each league is a good thing for baseball. It'll provide fans with more excitement during the season's final month and give division champions a better chance to win the World Series. I can't be more in favor of this new playoff format.