Expanded Playoffs Are on the Way for 2012 – What Does It Mean for MLB and the Cubs?

Today, MLB is expected to announce the official addition of two more Wild Card teams to the playoffs for 2012, expanding the total field to 10. There will be three division winners in each league, and two Wild Card teams in each league. The Wild Card teams will face each other in a one-game playoff, before moving on to face a division winner.

The impact for MLB teams as a whole should be obvious. With more teams in the playoffs, the season is likely to be exciting slightly longer for more fan bases than before. Further, with a one-game Wild Card playoff (during which those teams will likely use their best starter), the importance of winning the division becomes all the more important. That, too, will create more excitement later in the season than there has been before.

The impact on the Chicago Cubs for the 2012 season, however, is likely to be only tangential.

Yes, it gives them a slightly better chance of making the playoffs – but it does that for every other team, too. It’s plausible now that the Cubs, who aren’t expected to be particularly good, could be more competitive later in the year than they would have been otherwise. That, of course, could be good (excitement) or bad (difficult trade decisions). There are arguments floating around that the additional Wild Cards make trade pieces more valuable, because more teams will be in the race, so the market for guys like Matt Garza will be deeper. That might prove to be the case; it might also prove to be the case that, because more teams are in the race, teams are less likely to part with top prospects for incremental upgrades – they’re already in the race, after all, and the playoffs are a crapshoot. I suppose, gun to my head, I come down on the “trade pieces are slightly more valuable” side of things, but it’s closer than some would have you believe.

In my book, the change is a good one, both for 2012 and beyond. More excitement late in the year is a good thing, and you’d struggle to convince me otherwise.

Finally, for those who reflect fondly on the final day of the 2011 season – the Rays’ epic win, the Red Sox’s epic loss, the Cardinals’ blah-blah-blah – and say that it wouldn’t have happened under the current system, please recognize two things: (1) you’re right that, if the current system had been in place last year, the last day of the regular season wouldn’t have had that same drama; and (2) that’s wholly and completely beside the point, because (a.) that was just as statically likely to happen on the final day of any given regular season (actually, slightly more so, since there are more spots) under the new system than the old and (b.) there is additional built-in drama now with the Wild Card play-in games.

In other words, the whole but-what-about-what-happened-last-year is total red herring. It was a wonderful fluke, no more or less likely to happen again in 2012 than it was to happen in 2011.

Brett Taylor is the editor and lead writer at Bleacher Nation, and can also be found as Bleacher Nation on Twitter and on Facebook.

45 responses to “Expanded Playoffs Are on the Way for 2012 – What Does It Mean for MLB and the Cubs?”

  1. die hard

    One way this new idea works is to adopt Billy Ripken’s 157 game schedule idea announced today on MLB Network: Goes something like this:

    a. 2 fifteen team leagues.
    b. each team plays the other 14 teams in its league 8 times, totalling 112.
    c. each team also plays all 15 teams in the opposite league 3 times, for a total of 157.
    d. first 5 finishers in each league go to the playoffs.
    e. teams 4/5 have a one game “play-in” game, then 1 plays winner of 4/5, and 2 plays 3. f. winners play best of 7 to determine WS opponents.
    g. WS home field to the remaining team with the best overall record, including playoffs.

    1. TWC

      Billy Ripken?  You mean, ol’ Fuck Face?

    2. TWC

      Really, while I think it’s unlikely that they’ll ever contract the schedule, I don’t completely oppose that idea.  If they can cram in the extra 5 games against geographic/division rivals it could work.  If interleague play must remain, I’d prefer that each team play all the others every season.  I think the current arrangement is pretty dumb.

      1. Diesel

        I don’t like the idea of playing every team in the AL every year. Its too much like the NBA. I think the schedule needs to be more like the NFL where you play one division in the other league each year. It’s interesting and doesn’t get stale. Interleague is a gimmick that isn’t going away but don’t make it boring as to play every single team. I enjoy the different interleague match ups each season.

    3. Cliffy

      If they go with 45 inter league games out of 157 games other teams might think they need a dh type hitter such as soriano.

      1. TWC

        I would think that the only way this type of schedule would happen is if (when) the DH comes to the NL.

        *sigh*

      2. die hard

        DH in NL was also suggested by him after Burnett hit by own bunt in the face yesterday.

  2. Dougy D

    I think that I am okay with the wild card play-in games, as long as it is a one game playoff for the 2 wild card teams, in each league of course. After all, they are wild card teams that didn’t win their division. They should have to give something up (starting their best available starter in the play-in game) to make the playoffs.

  3. Bren

    Doesn’t a one game “playoff” seem kind of pointless? it just seems to gimmicky, Im sure they’d be concerned with spilling over into November if they went to a 3 game series, but why not a home and home, two game series, using an aggregate score (like the champions league) as a tie breaker?

    one game just seems like too much of a gimmick

    1. DocWimsey

      It increases the probability of teams with big, nationwide fanbases (Yanks, Sox, Cubs, Dodgers) getting to boost TV ratings. Oh, and more teams have hope, etc….

  4. Dave H

    It looks as though they would only have to reduce the season calendar wise by 3 days. It may require the need this year to some mandatory doubleheaders or reduce travel days that are at the early part of the season. I like the addition of two more teams to the playoff chase. I would prefer them not be one and done games but maybe a three game series. This would throw off scheduling logistics big time. It would make divisional races more exciting because you may not want to play that extra series in the playoffs and have injuries or rotation difficulties.

    1. HoustonTransplant

      I like this idea a whole lot. A 1 game “play in” just…doesn’t work in my opinion. I’d like to see a few scheduled double-headers to compensate both the teams’ revenues (keep it at 81 home games), but also make that “play in” not such a “who is luckier today” scenario.

      I dunno, it’s neat to see more teams involved, but it feels more slapped together than really planned out for what’s best for all parties.

      1. Brady

        I agree. I hate the 1 game “play-in” because why play 163 games a year in series of 2 or greater games if you all your playoff hopes come down to 1 game. Just seems stupid. I am fine adding another round of playoffs but I think it should be best of 3 at least.

  5. Deez

    You can have the 2nd best Record in Baseball & easily lose a one game playoff. Most times, the best team doesn’t win Sudden Death games! They should go to a 3 game playoff. It gives you a chance but is it really “fair?” Think about what it does to rotation set up for the next series? It boost interest in a few markets prior to football season but it’s kinda laughable IMO.

    1. DocWimsey

      Has anybody attempted to summarize the history of “sudden death” games? Of course, the issue will be rotations: the team that is lined up to have a good pitcher start on normal rest will have the advantage. So, it probably will favor teams with multiple good starters over those with one or two “great” starters and multiple OK starters.

  6. Edward

    It’s bad enough that the divisional series is only a best-of-five. Can’t wait to see the complaints when a 99 win wild card team loses the first playoff game to an 87 win team. There goes the season. There will be some amazing drama in that single game, like last year, but it is not a very good system to produce the WS winner.

    Bring the total to 12, do a one game playoff between the 2nd and 3rd wild card teams, and play a best-of-seven series for the next 3 rounds.

    Wait, that doesn’t add up. There needs to be a better solution!

    1. TWC

      A 99-win wild card team?  Really?  That must be one hell of a division.  I mean, it seems that that might only occasionally concern the AL East.  And screw them.

      1. Andrew

        ’02 Angels – 99 win wild card team
        ’04 Red Sox – 98 win wild card team

        It doesn’t happen often, but it’s possible. Get a great team on a tear at the top of your division and 2nd place can still have a pretty dang good record.

      2. Edward

        I went back the past seven years and there have been no 99 win WC teams, but there are a couple of 95 win WC teams (yes, both AL East).

        85-89 wins looks like the magic number in the NL; 87-95 in the AL.

        What happens when two teams are tied for the 2nd WC spot? A play-in for the play-in? What if three teams are tied? There will be some unique scenarios, I’m sure.

        1. TWC

          Yeah, didn’t look back as far as ’02 to see that Angels team, but I know that they’re plenty of mid-90-win WC teams… and they’re usually in the AL East.

          I’ve kind of come around on the issue.  If the division winners had to engage in a 1-game playoff, I’d be annoyed, but it seems to me that the 1-game WC playoff does what it’s supposed to do: increase interest and make division races even more critical.

        2. DocWimsey

          To get a 99-win WC team, you need a division with two really good teams and at least two really bad ones, as the ALE was in the first half of last decade: Yanks & Sox were really good, the O’s and Rays were really bad, with the Jays often less than spectacular. Add a good Rays team to that mix, and all of a sudden it gets really tough for both (or even either) the Yanks or Sox to win 99 games even if they are just as good as they were 10 years ago.

    2. DocWimsey

      Say what you will, but you can predict the outcomes of 75% of the 5-game series. However, a 1-game series will be much more difficult to predict. (Still, the vast majority of 5-game series are won by the team that wins game 1, so maybe not!)

      1. hansman1982

        But 60% of the time, the loser of the 5-game series wins the World Series all the time.

        Damn, there is another joke that has gotten really old…

        1. DocWimsey

          It’s not a joke, it’s a typo. (Now corrected…)

        2. Brady

          I read somewhere that 80% of statistics are made up on the spot to proove a point. I could be wrong though.

  7. Andrew

    Though I’d like to see a 3-game series instead of a 1-game playoff, a 3-game series (which would most likely take 4 or 5 days with travel days) plus one or two off days scheduled prior to the play-in series in the event of tie-breaker games would put teams that win their division sitting up to a week between the end of the regular season and their first playoff game. Baseball is so much about momentum and continuity when you’re winning, so it could potentially be a disadvantage to teams who actually win their division if a 3-game series were implemented.

    I don’t particularly like the idea of a one-game play-in, but I think it’s better than a longer play-in series. Division winners get the advantage of not having to go through a crap-shoot game to stay in the playoffs, which I think actually puts more of a premium on winning the division.

    1. DocWimsey

      Yeah, you don’t want to give other teams too much time off. Many players have complained that long gaps between games between series or even within series throws them off: they are used to playing nearly every day, after all, and their routines are based around that.

  8. ferrets_bueller

    I think its just stupid. Look at the AL for the last decade- is it really fair to make the Wild Card team, usually the second best team in baseball that season, play a crap shoot, gimmick, one game? No. Its stupid.

    Also, they need to make all series 7 games.

    1. Edward

      Agreed. The one-game playoff is rediculous. Why play 162 games? Shorten the season a hair, play a few double-headers, and play everything best-of-seven.

  9. Norm

    My first reaction was “terrible”. But since it’s only a play in game to determine the wild card, no biggie IMO.
    It basically just means that instead of the #4 team getting wild card, the #4 (maybe #2 or #3) and #5 teams play one game for the wild card. Keeps one more city interested in October baseball for a game.

  10. RoughRiider

    The use of foul language just for that sake of using it shows.
    A. Lack of Class.
    B. Lack of maturity.
    C. Lack of intelligence.
    D. Lack of imagination.
    E. Lack of Linquistic capabilities.

    1. TWC

      Yeah, or, F. making a specific, germane reference regarding the author of the aforementioned new playoff concept.  See: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Billy_Ripken#1989_baseball_card.  HTH.

      1. RoughRiider

        My comment stands its just directed at Billy Ripkin now.

  11. die hard

    I believe the Astros are key to agreeing to a 157 game schedule next year. If MLB can change playoff schedule for 2012 why not new structure in 2013? 5 meaningless games off the schedule wont matter. Moreover this new format may help smaller market teams to compete, like Blue Jays, by playing fewer games against Bosox and Yankees.

    1. TWC

      If those 5 games make the difference between a division winner and a wild card team, I’d argue that they do indeed matter.

      1. die hard

        Season is much too long and games can become meaningless no matter when played during season and no matter who is playing them if fan interest is down and prices are up. Fans only have so much money to throw around. I would prefer a 140-150 schedule and expanding playoffs a bit more as long as WS over by Oct 15.

    2. Luke

      To shorten the season to 157 from 162 games would involve cooperation from the union. MLB would say that player contracts should be reduced in value to 157/162s of their original value to reflect the loss in revenue from those extra 5 games, and the union would flatly refuse to ever allow any systemic reduction in contract value for any reason, ever.

      And that pretty much kills any chance of shortening the season.

      Besides, 157 is an odd number. That means half the teams are shorted a home game, which cuts into their revenue for that season. I doubt the owners would sign of on that.

      1. die hard

        Law of supply and demand may work to keep revenue the same for players over 157 or even less games. If there are less games then each becomes more relatively meaningful which increases attendance at each game meaning more concessions bought per seat.

  12. DowntownLBrown

    This makes it easier for us to make deals at trade deadline, but unfortunately see three of our rivals get in the playoffs this year. **Reds (Division), Brewers(WC) and Cardinals(WC)**

    1. Luke

      I doubt the NL Central will land both WC teams this year. The second place team in the East (Atlanta or Philly) seems likely to claim one of them. I’m not so sure I’d count out the second place team in the West so fast, either.

      1. DocWimsey

        Well, the “good” NLC teams are going to have one awful team in their division, and very possibly two bad teams in their division. So, the Cards, Reds and Brewers could run up a lot of wins within the division. However, the 3 teams also are going to (probably) play about 0.500 (+/- sampling) against each other, which is going to add about 18-18 to their total records. Playing 0.500 for over a month of games is not good for WC chances!

  13. CubSouth

    Didn’t read all the comments, but who gets to play at homein the one game wc playoff? If both teams have the same record, where do they go to next as far as tie-breakers go?

  14. Big Joe

    One game should not determine the end result of a season’s worth of hard work. Shorten the schedule, and make the extra playoff, at very least, a three game series. I prefer the better team to advance…drama, and tv ratings, be damned.

  15. JustSwain

    I don’t think this whole post could be any more wrong. I’m not the only one who thinks so, in fact, the last unofficial poll I saw on the internet only a very slight majority of fans are in favor of increasing the playoffs. Joe Sheehan of SI recently came out with a post that points out just some of the reasons expanding the playoffs isn’t that good of an idea. http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/2012/writers/joe_sheehan/02/29/wild.card/index.html?sct=mlb_t11_a1 if you want to check it out. If the NBA has taught me anything its that more teams in the playoffs doesn’t increase drama it decreases it. One game playoff? In baseball? I like the term that Joe Sheehan has picked up in his article. I think we should call the one game playoff the “Coin Flip” game. Heck, we could solve all the problems with the schedule just by getting rid of the one game playoff altogether, just have the two teams send a representative to a neutral location where MLB will monitor a best three out of five rock/paper/scissors faceoff. Oh wait, we want some baseball skill to play into it, so each team sends a representative to HoHoKam park where they partake in a bunting tournament…its about as fair as a one game playoff.