Tampa Bay hurler David Price looks to pitch his team back into the post-season. Courtesy of Matt Snyder, CBS Sports
As the Major League Baseball regular season enters its final days, there is one intriguing race going on for the American League’s two Wild Card spots.
As of Thursday morning, six teams, ranging from St. Petersburg, Florida to Kansas City, Missouri, are separated by a mere 2 1/2 games. With neither team really giving an inch, it will be interesting to see who winds up playing in the 4 seed vs. 5 seed Wild Card game with plenty of combinations to make one’s head turn.
Before I proceed, I must say that this is the best idea MLB’s had in years in my humble opinion. When baseball went to the three division and one wild card format in 1994, the purists were aghast, believing that the sanctity of the game had been violated just to include two more teams per league (American and National) to the post-season. After seeing four wild card teams in eight seasons (Marlins twice, Angels and Red Sox once) win World Series titles, the chatter died down just enough for Bud Selig to add one more team and game to the post-season – a play-in game if you will.
The teams with the next two best records who aren’t division winners play each other for the right to advance to the division series. It proved to be great last year as Baltimore and St. Louis each took exciting games on the road. With this in mind, I think MLB can do even better with this newest wild card incarnation, and I have three separate proposals they can choose from.
First up is making the Wild Card play-in game a typical 3-game series in which the team with the better record gets to host. Obviously it stacks the deck against the road team, but a 3-game road sweep isn’t as improbably as one would think. You can even get crafty and have the first two games be played in a double-header, forcing the managers to be creative in how to use their pitching staffs and line-ups. If one team sweeps the double-header, that’s the end of the series of course and that would cancel out the next day’s game.
The second proposal would include a THIRD Wild Card team in each league, having teams 3 through 6 play each other in a 3-game series while the top two division winners (by record) get a bye to the Division Series. This would call for shortening the regular season from 162 games to 156. The same suggestion of a first-day double-header for the first scenario applies, which means you could see a division winner out on the very first day, creating some match-ups in the Division Series that would wreak more havoc.
The third and final proposal is the ultimate – the coup de grace, the one that will probably cause some gaskets to blow – and that’s do away with divisions altogether. From 1903 to 1968, the American League and National League had no divisions, whoever was Number One on the last day of the regular season played in the World Series. That meant whoever had the best year was the best representative for each league, but in this proposal, instead of having division winners and wild cards, just take the best six teams from each league, have them play each other in a three-game first round, a five-game second round and a seven-game semifinal.
This would call for another regular season schedule reduction, from 162 to 150 games. Could you imagine the top-seeded Boston Red Sox being eliminated by the sixth-seeded Kansas City Royals or the second-seeded St. Louis Cardinals losing to the five-seed Cincinnati Reds, who are neck and neck for the NL Central title right now? The chaos would be fantastic for the game of baseball.
However, these are just proposals from a fan and I don’t see the MLB players association or the owners wanting to shorten the season, but if they added money to the playoff bonuses and shares, it’s possible.
If you had to ask me which proposal makes the most sense, it would be the Wild Card play-in game as a play-in series, but the most exciting would be the six best records in each league proposal, hands down.
Just some things baseball should consider to make a great idea even better.