The Reds’ playoff odds got a bump last week. Without adding a player or any injury to a rival occurring, the playoffs got that much closer for Cincinnati. That said, they did for every other team as well. Bud Selig got his playoff expansion, adding another wild card to the playoffs in each league. Now 10 teams will be in the postseason.
The knee-jerk reaction (read, Internet reaction) was “there’s Bud again,” along with the usual cries bashing baseball’s boss. Selig, though, didn’t get this through by himself, and getting past the initial shock it’s really a good thing.
Why does it work? Because of the exact reason people denounce it. The expanded playoffs work by increasing the value of the regular season.
Winning a division is now a distinct advantage, while it hasn’t been during in the rest of the wild card era. In 2010, the Yankees more or less conceded the American League East race to the Rays, resting their starters and lining up their rotation for the playoffs, instead of going for the division title. Yankees GM Brian Cashman recently said a divison title was “nothing more than a T-shirt and a hat.” And he was right. Was.
Another rule, which is now gone, was that teams couldn’t play a divisional foe in the first round of the playoffs, often taking away the advantage of the team with the best record hosting a wild card entry (which may or may not even have a worse record than a division winner).
Now the team with the best record will play a team that couldn’t win its division — and might have already used its best pitcher in a one-game playoff.
On the other hand, the one-game wild card could result in another Steve Parris situation, as the Reds had nobody else to start their one-game playoff against the Mets in 1999.
But that again is a reason to shoot for the divisional title.
Yeah, a one-game playoff isn’t baseball, and it’s hardly a way to settle a winner after 162 games, but the wild card already devalued that. This increases the value of the regular season — and one game is actually the perfect way to make this work. It’d be one thing if one game hurt the chances of a team that battled all season and won its division, but the wild card? No problem. You want a fair series? Win your division.
Even with 10 teams, it’s still harder to make the playoffs in baseball than in any of the other major sports. With the additions, 33 percent of MLB teams will play in the postseason, versus 37.5 percent for the National Football League and 53 percent of the National Basketball League and National Hockey League.
If there is a fault in the new system, it’s more of the timing than anything. By ramrodding it in for 2012, the home-field advantage will be lessened a bit by having the division series open at the wild card and lower-seeded team for two games before going to the higher seeded team’s field for a possible three games. A division winner could have just one playoff game at its home field this year, a decided disadvantage. But in 2013, that structure will be replaced by the 2-2-1 format for divisional play that had previously been in place.
If you’re OK with the wild card — and a World Series being won by a team that didn’t even win its division (which has happened five times since 1995) — then it’s tough to fault the new rule. In the end, even if you don’t like it, it still means more baseball. And more baseball is always a good thing.
Thinking Out Loud
UC’s victory over Marquette put them in the NCAA tournament no matter what happens at the Big East tournament. As big of a critic as I’ve been of Mick Cronin, he’s had one heck of a season and is deserving of any accolades he gets this year. Forget the cakewalk schedule early on, the way he handled everything around the Crosstown Shootout fight and its aftermath, the Bearcats are headed to the NCAA tournament — even with a loss to Presbyterian on their resume. That’s a heck of a feat. ... Neftali Soto is earning some rave reviews in Goodyear. He might be the biggest reason the Reds were able to trade Yonder Alonso. If Joey Votto departs via free agency following the 2013 season (forget Toronto, look for him to be a Dodger), it’s Soto that will be ready to take over at first base. Soto has always been able to hit, but it seems he’s finally found a positional home.