I have made no secret of my opinion that the addition of an additional Wild Card in each league, bringing the total number of playoff teams to 10, is a good thing for Major League Baseball. It makes the late season more exciting and interesting for a number of fan bases whose team otherwise could have been long out of the race, and it makes the Division races exponentially more important. I’m not crazy about the whole one-game playoff part of it, but I’ll take it if that’s all I can get (I’d prefer at least a three-game series, and preferably five).
So, you’ll be unsurprised to learn that I’m hoping the new playoff system is implemented as quickly as possible. The new CBA afforded baseball the opportunity to install the additional Wild Cards for 2012, but only if the owners and players could agree on how to do it by March 1. That seems a ways off still, but the schedule has to be approved before that, and it is the schedule that will dictate whether the additional Wild Cards are even possible this year.
And, according to ESPN’s Jayson Stark, despite Bud Selig’s confident statements about the additional Wild Cards this year, scheduling concerns are posing a significant obstacle to getting it done. From Stark:
Here are the major complications:
• The regular season is scheduled to end on a Wednesday (Oct.3), and the World Series will start exactly 21 days later, on Oct. 24. It isn’t feasible at this point to change either of those dates.
• The Division Series are now tentatively scheduled to begin on Saturday, Oct. 6. So the schedule-makers have to figure out a way to jam two one-game wild-card showdowns, plus potential tiebreaker games and/or rainout makeup games, into the two days in between.
Keep in mind that it’s now far more likely that there would need to be at least one tiebreaker game under this system. Because the difference between finishing first and being a wild-card team will now be so great, the two sides have agreed that it isn’t fair to break those ties any way other than on the field.
• Sources say there have been extensive discussions about eliminating a travel day during the Division Series to create more room for the wild-card round. But in return, the union has told management it would want concessions on start times for games that would be played on back-to-back days in different time zones.
That could mean, for instance, that the New York Yankees or Boston Red Sox wouldn’t be able to play in prime time on the East Coast two games in a row — a potential development that would likely result in strenuous objections from management and baseball’s TV partners.
• Start times for the final day of the regular season could also be affected. If it’s decided that one or both wild-card games would be scheduled for Thursday, Oct. 4 (the day after the season ends), the union would prefer to have Wednesday games involving the affected teams moved to the afternoon, sources said.
Stark concludes that the sides are still trying very hard to make it work, and ultimately, things may work out with a few sacrifices. But it’s possible that we’ll have to wait until 2013.
For the most part, the issues will not again present themselves in 2013 because the schedule will be created with the additional Wild Cards in mind (and the schedule is going to be very different, what with the Astros moving to the AL, necessitating year-long interleague play).
(By the way, in case you were wondering how the second Wild Card would have impacted your rooting last year: had it been in place for 2011, on August 1, instead of being 16.5 games out of the NL Central, the Chicago Cubs would have been a mere 16 games out of the second Wild Card! I know, I know. It’s negligible. But keep in mind, the Cubs were, at that time, the third worst team in all of baseball. To other NL teams, the addition would have made a huge difference – the second Wild Card at that time was three games behind the first Wild Card.)