Baseball to expand playoff system?

Major League Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig speaks during a news conference in New York, April 21, 2011. Major League Baseball (MLB), in an extraordinary move, plans to take control of the day-to-day operations of the Los Angeles Dodgers because of mounting concern over the franchise’s financial plight. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid (UNITED STATES – Tags: SPORT BASEBALL)

Commissioner Bud Selig told the media on Thursday that Major League Baseball is moving toward expansion of its current playoff system.

“The more we’ve talked about it, I think we’re moving inexorably to that,” Selig said. “But there’s a myriad of details to work out.”

I think an expanded playoff pool would bring more excitement not only to the postseason, but to the regular season as well. Under the current system, all six division winners reach the playoffs, as well as one Wild Card team from each league. It sounds as if Selig wants to add one more Wild Card team to the mix in each league, meaning the clubs with the top two records from each league would each get a bye.

Some baseball traditionalists might resist the change, but all things must change over time. The current playoff format wasn’t introduced until 1994, so there’s nothing wrong with adapting a new system nearly 20 years later – especially when the new format would keep fans interested and going to the ballpark deep into the second half.

Think about it: how many times in the past 10 years has a divisional race been decided in early August? And then what happens to the fans of those clubs that find themselves out of contention? They stop going to the park.

Adding another Wild Card team to the postseason mix would ensure that fan bases of contenders would keep coming to the park, which means more revenue for Major League Baseball and that team. The fans get to see a potential playoff participant, the team can keep selling beer, hot dogs and ballcaps, while the league grows its popularity. It’s a win for all parties involved.

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Brennan misses the point about baseball postseason

Christine Brennan of USA Today writes that the format for the baseball playoffs needs to be redone.

Angels-Red SoxTo pique fan interest, lure sponsors and maximize TV ratings, MLB has, over time, adopted a three-tiered playoff system — four divisional series leading to two championship series to, finally, the World Series — which by definition diminishes the meaning of the regular season.

Talk about your mixed messages. On the one hand, the game is at its pastoral best when it is played out over time, when it meanders through the summer like a lazy river, when patience is rewarded, when one game by itself may mean so little.

Then, once we hit October, baseball becomes manic. The marathon turns into a sprint, especially in the division series, which still are the quirkiest of arrangements, just a quick, best-of-five-games test.
Of course, every team knows what the rules are. None of this is new to them. And what infuriates purists delights the masses. When teams like the Los Angeles Dodgers, who were only six games above .500 and had the 15th-best record during the regular season, are potentially just four games away from the World Series, that’s the kind of story that brings people running to their TV sets.

But let’s examine that sentence again. A team with the 15th-best record in baseball is four games away from the World Series. And the teams with the two best records in the game are at least 169 games from the World Series — next year’s World Series.

Like all other big U.S. professional sports, baseball elongates its season not necessarily to crown the year’s best team, but to meet and perhaps exceed all financial, marketing and entertainment goals.
But not every last bit of regular-season integrity need be lost. It’s time for MLB to go back to two divisions in each league, with the top two teams in each division making the playoffs. In other words, no more 15th-best teams allowed.

Brennan makes a great point that in the end, baseball wants to market itself in the best way possibly to make more money. But MLB is a business, so of course it wants to make more money and will continue to think of ways to do so.

Where she misses the point is that it’s not the league’s fault that every infielder for the Cubs made an error in the same game against the Dodgers, or that the Red Sox continue to own the Angels in the postseason. And only four teams in the postseason? How is this fun for fans? Without a salary cap, more times than not the teams that spend the most will go to the playoffs. (And before anyone says anything, I know that the Rockies and Rays made the playoffs the last two years with small pay rolls. But look at the Rockies – they couldn’t sustain their World Series momentum this year because they don’t spend enough to compete year in and year out.)

The postseason format is fine. It’s getting a cap in place that should be the league’s top priority. But that will never happen.

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