Since Mike Matheny decided to have a light workout on Friday there is not much news from Cardinals’ camp. The big baseball news of the day had to do with the official announcement from Major League Baseball that there will be an extra team added to the playoffs for each league beginning this season. Was the expansion rushed and is it even necessary?
The new format is as follows. In addition to the three division winners in each league, the two teams with the next best records will face off in a one game playoff with the winner moving on to face the #1 seed in the league. The wild card teams can come from the same division and they could play a divisional rival in the next round if the seeding calls for it. In the previous format divisional opponents could not meet until the League Championship Series.
Due to the fact that the schedule for the season was set prior to the announcement, MLB had to make some tough decisions on how to handle the playoff schedule. Due to the confinement of the schedule and worrying about how rainouts would affect and push back games they needed to find a way to get the one game in without adding a day. Adding a day was not an option as they wanted to keep the League Championship Series and the World Series on schedule due to television agreements. So, there will still be one day between the last regular season game and when the 1st round play-in games begin. After the play-in game is completed the winner stays put and the higher seed travels to the lower seed’s ballpark. This is the catch; the format is changing to the first two games at the lower seed’s park and the final three at the higher seed’s home. This allows for the inability to add a travel day. The divisional round was previously in a 2-2-1 scenario (two at high seed’s home park, two at low seed’s home park and final game at high seed’s home park if necessary).
This is a cause for concern in my opinion. Though the total number of games in each park remains the same, the fact that the lower seed gets to strike up momentum in the series is a problem in my eyes. How does MLB think this is going to benefit the team which wins a division or has the better record? Home field advantage is the one true benefit of a division title or winning more games than the other team. If the lower seed begins the series with games in their park and jumps out to a two games to none lead in a best of five series the higher seed has been put at a disadvantage, now having to win three straight. Winning three straight games is difficult in the post-season regardless of venue. MLB’s contention is the extra time the higher seed gets to rest is a big advantage and the lower seed will be struggling to find arms. I’m not buying that. Many teams go three quality starters deep and isn’t that all part of the strategy as the season ends? Managers must make sure they are lined up accordingly.
While I am not in favor of the measure as a whole, I understand MLB’s overall stance of adding two teams to the playoff mix. In doing so, there could be multiple teams fighting for the final spots which means more franchises hosting important games in September. The teams are happy because they have an extra chance to make the post-season. Making the post-season, even if it is one game, brings added revenue to the team in the form of tickets, merchandise and stadium extras (concessions, parking et al). But didn’t we have that last season all on its own? Would the amazing final day of the 2011 season have meant anything if the Tampa Bay Rays had to then turn around and play the Boston Red Sox who tanked in September? Would the Cardinals have wanted to play the Atlanta Braves in a one game playoff last season? Did the Red Sox or Braves deserve to have that option? I’m not even going to get into how this could begin to water down the playoff system.
Despite my displeasure, there are many within the league who are very excited about the new format. Here are a few quotes from some involved in the decision making process and others who gave their opinions yesterday.
"“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.”– Bud Selig, MLB Commissioner“There was an agreement to try and move to an expanded playoffs this year. We didn’t have a schedule that was designed to accommodate it. It took a lot of hard work by both sides to try and figure out a way to make it happen.”– Michael Weiner, Executive Director MLBPA“Everybody remembers day 162 last year and how exciting that was,” said St. Louis manager Mike Matheny, a coach in the Cardinals system last season. “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.”– Mike Matheny, manager St. Louis Cardinals"
The biggest issue is why the rush? MLB business revenues are booming. The schedule was already set. Why force the additional changes to the format? Isn’t the change of adding two teams enough? I would have been in favor of forcing the wild card team who won the play-in game to travel wherever they had to to face the #1 seed. The biggest complaint before the resolution was the divisional winners needed to see some advantage. Well, that would have done it. It may have forced a time change, but that is fluid anyway. The new format of 2-3 versus 2-2-1 is not helpful to the higher seed other than they get an extra day off. This is good for resting pitchers etc. but I cannot stress enough how bad it would be if the Cardinals were to play in Milwaukee for the first two games of a five-game series even though the Cardinals were the division winners.
I really question why MLB couldn’t work something out with the TV networks to stretch the remainder of the playoffs out a day. But, they contend their was no way around it and this is a business which relies on television revenues. My feeling is this all could have waited until next season if it had to happen at all. MLB has a tendency to want everything all at once. They forced a situation with unwarranted changes in order to begin the playoff expansion this season versus waiting and doing it right the first time in 2013.
We’ll be back tomorrow with an update from Cardinals camp and a look at the first spring training game set for Monday.