Should the Sox and Rays have duked it out for the AL Wild Card?
Sources say that MLB is switching to a 10 team playoff in which the two Wild Card teams in each league will have a play-in game for the final spot. The impact of the change on the important issues is discussed below.
End of Season Races: Slight Positive
It’s hard to see this having a big impact on the end of season races. All that happens is the excitement is shifted from 1st place in the Wild Card Standing to 2nd place, while it’s less exciting to win either of these spots because you aren't in the playoffs yet. It’s easy to come up with scenarios where the races become irrelevant with either format (a close race for first place where third place is far behind; a close race for second place where first place is far ahead). The change would get more teams involved, which gives it a slight positive.
Increased Emphasis on Winning the Division: Neutral
Many claim that there will be an increased emphasis on winning the division. Winning the division becomes more attractive, but it already was very attractive (Emma Watson with short hair vs. Emma Stone becomes Emma Watson with long hair vs. Emma Stone).
TV Ratings Improve: Slight Positive
I only see myself watching the play-in game if the Braves are in it. Forget it otherwise. I don’t see much appeal for the casual fan. However, Fox and TBS would get the rights and there is probably some impact to re-branding as a playoff game, which should allow MLB to increase revenue.
Wild Card Teams’ Fate Decided with One Game: Slight Positive
The situation where the 1st place Wild Card Team is many games ahead of the 2nd place obviously pushes for a negative, but schedules vary significantly among teams, and more often than not, I think a head-to-head match-up would be the best way to see who deserves the playoff spot.
Wild Card Team at Big Disadvantage and Their Opponent at Big Advantage in Division Series: Huge Negative
Playing an extra game in baseball, especially a very important game, adversely affects the quality of the team in the future. Beyond the wear on everyday players and the bullpen of playing a game in place of an off day, whoever starts isn't going to be able to start again for at least the next three days. Given that one of the top of the rotation guys is going to have to start the play-in game, the postseason pitching staff becomes much thinner. This gives a huge advantage to the team that plays the Wild Card winner in the first round. There are two problems with this: 1) The Wild Card Winner could be the actual second best team in the league (whoever is 2nd in the AL East), and they are penalized for playing in a tough division. 2) The team that benefits could very well be the division winner with the 2nd best record (which could be the team with the 3rd best record in the league). Because two teams from the same division can’t play each other in the division series, the best regular season team wouldn’t even benefit from playing the shorthanded Wild Card team if they’re from the same division. These two factors combined are a huge negative.
Traditionalists don’t like the Wild Card and want to do everything they can to disadvantage them. The nature of the playoffs is that it’s unpredictable and anyone can win, with the best team only being a slight favorite. Giving an advantage to the best team to reward them for their regular season is in line with a season of 162 meaningful games, but punishing the actual 2nd best team or giving an advantage to the division winner with the 2nd best record affects the outcome of the division series in a manner inconsistent with an increased emphasis on the regular season. The slight benefits of improved end of season races, better TV ratings, and letting Wild Card teams play head-to-head for a playoff spot is outweighed by the effect the play-in game will have on the division series.