The change would be simple, but seismic: one team would move from the National League to the American League, and the three-division format would be scrapped. The top five teams in each of the resulting 15-team leagues would make the playoffs.
Obviously the genesis of this discussion is the currently-favored plan to add a second Wild Card team to the playoff picture, which team would play the other Wild Card team in a three-game first “round” of the playoffs. This new plan simply adds realignment to the equation.
While the plan is being seriously discussed, it’s far from a sure thing.
A source who has been briefed on the specifics of the labor discussions says that the players’ union has indicated that it is open to the idea of two 15-team leagues, but that the whole plan still hasn’t been talked through or presented to the owners.
“I’d still say the odds of it happening are less than 50-50,” one source said.
A sticking point involves interleague play. Because of the odd number of teams in each league, it is possible that a team in contention late in the season will have to be playing its final games in interleague play.
One of the biggest issues that would have to be resolved in any realignment resulting in two 15-team leagues is which of the National League teams would switch to the American League.
Two highly ranked executives believe the Houston Astros would be a possibility, because a switch to the AL for Houston would foster a rivalry between the Astros and the Texas Rangers.
“There are still a lot of details that would have to be discussed,” one source said.
From where I sit, I see three huge benefits to the change:
(1) Extends the length of the meaningful part of the season for more teams. Sure, this year it might not matter for Cubs fans, but with five teams making the playoffs out of 15 NL teams, in most years, the Cubs could easily make it to August before crushing our hearts. The same would be true for a number of ne’er-do-wells, and their fans could regularly enjoy a couple extra months of meaningful baseball. As it is, the season is over far too early for too many teams.
(2) Eviscerates crummy division alignment. While I have come to appreciate the NL Central for a variety of reasons, you can’t argue that the divisions around baseball make a ton of sense for reasons both competitive and geographic. Six teams in one division and four in another? The Astros in a “central” division and the Rangers in a “west” division?
(3) Restores old school rivalries. For years, beginning with divisional play in 1969, the Cubs and Mets had a pretty serious rivalry going, which was extinguished by the emergence of three NL divisions. I know that many of you would like to see it back. And there could be more – Cubs v. Dodgers? Cubs v. Giants? Cubs v. Braves? How about the Nats? F the Nats.
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