The big baseball news of the day, reported by Ken Rosenthal, is that starting this season the postseason field in each league will expand by one wild-card team.
While a source in the article says that there are "still a few loose ends," the two non-division winners in each league with the best records will have a one-game playoff after the regular season ends, with the winner of that lightning round moving on. Obviously, a major ramification of this new format is that a team finishing third in their division can still have a shot at winning the World Series.
While this is big news for every team in the major leagues, it sets up an especially intriguing scenario in the National League East—a division that is expected to be fiercely competitive from top to bottom in 2012.
With two of the top teams in the National League the last couple of seasons (the Philadelphia Phillies and Atlanta Braves) and two up-and-coming, exciting young teams (the Miami Marlins and Washington Nationals), there could easily be three National League East teams in the 2012 playoffs. That's not even mentioning the New York Mets, who, while not expected to have a stellar year, can never be counted out—New York teams always have some aura and buzz surrounding them.
The Nationals, who many thought might still be a couple years away, now have a legitimate chance at making the playoffs this year. For a team that people in DC are just starting to come around on, this should do wonders with helping them build a fanbase and generating good feelings with free agents they may court in the future. In fact, forget the future; they could easily finish third this year, win 87 or 88 games and find their way into a one-game playoff with Stephen Strasburg on the mound.
The Marlins are in a similar boat as the Nats. A young team looking to gel together after a couple big additions in the offseason, they now have a real shot at playing into October.
Where this gets really interesting, though, is when we start to consider how the Braves and Phillies must feel about the addition of another wild-card team. These are two teams that we already expected to make the postseason, that were being projected by many fans and analysts to win the NL East and original wild-card spots. And while obviously every team wants to win a division championship, winning the Wild Card and having the same shot as anyone else in the playoffs wasn't that unattractive of a consolation prize.
Well, not anymore. The fight for winning the division will be intense, furious, cutthroat and any other adjective that connotes a similarly fierce level of competition. You can bet that the Phillies and Braves want to be playing in a best-of-five series when they start the postseason, not in a winner-take-all match where anything can happen.
If anything, there are some crazy one-game playoff possibilities in the division.
Would Ozzie Guillen, Jose Reyes and Carlos Zambrano literally explode from the pressure and emotions of the situation?
Would the Phillies be able to alter their rotation down the stretch to be able to use one of their "Big Three" starters?
Would the Nationals consider using Stephen Strasburg, even if he's already logged a lot of innings on his surgically reconstructed arm?
Would the Mets still look into trading David Wright and other players if they are hanging around third place by the All-Star break?
Would the pressure of losing a must-win game on the final day last year affect the Braves?
Basically, the addition of another wild-card team in each league should make the NL East race awesome. It gives the rising squads in DC and Miami a fighter's chance, it puts the incumbent powers in Atlanta and Philadelphia on their toes, and it gives the Mets hope that if they can at least finish third in the division in the near future, they too will have a shot at the playoffs.