Let me also say that, while I agreed with the strategy, watching the Yankees and Rays basically coast through the last month of the season to a playoff berth they’d basically locked up in August was pretty boring, even for a hardcore baseball fan like me. I can only imagine what it was like for casual fans. So something that increases the value of winning your division seems like a pretty good idea to me at this point.
The problem I have with the proposal is making the two wild card teams play a best of 3 series before the divisional round. Frankly, that doesn’t punish the wild card team enough for my tastes, and in fact might even help the winner of the series. Given the likely layout of the schedule, the winner would still be able to use their best 3 starters primarily in the LDS, and would be fresh and in rhythm while their next opponent will have sat around waiting a whole week to play. WE’ve seen that play out in years past, and it generally isn’t a good situation for the “rested” team. So the idea of adding an entire extra round doesn’t sit well with me.
What I’d prefer to see is a one game playoff between the two wild cards for the right to go to the ALDS. First and foremost, this has the benefit of leaving the current format mostly unchanged. In short, it’s basically no different than what we saw in 2007, 2008, and 2009. It would also punish the wild card teams, as not only would their season hang in the balance of one baseball game, but they’d have to use their best pitcher as well, leaving him unavailable until at least game 3 of the ALDS. It would, in other words, be a real detriment to the wild card teams, and create a strong incentive to push for a divisional crown if it were in reach.
Consider 2010 for example. Under Bud Selig’s proposal, we’d lose the only races that mattered at the end of the year, as the Giants, Padres, and Braves would all have been assured of playoff spots. Under my proposal, however, the Giants and Padres would still have fought for the NL West crown, so as to avoid a one game playoff with Atlanta, and the Yankees and Rays would have done all they could have to avoid facing Jon Lester and the Red Sox in a one game playoff situation. So even though we’ve increased the number of “playoff” teams, we’ve also increased the incentive for winning your division, likely creating more dramatic baseball at the end of the season. After this season, I think that’s probably a good thing, so I’m on board with an extra wild card, for now, provided the wild card round is single elimination, not best of three.