This change in the playoff structure is a big deal for many teams on the brink of making the playoffs over the last couple of seasons. This now allows the third best team in each division a chance at a playoff berth.
Think about it; if this change was made last season, the Boston Red Sox would've been in a one-game playoff with the Tampa Bay Rays for a spot in the ALDS. If they win that game, who knows where they would be now.
ESPN's Jayson Stark did a full analysis on the new playoffs, but there are a couple of bigger issues that have arisen.
Winning the AL East is now more important than ever. Over the last five seasons, the second best team in the AL East made the playoffs and had five chances to advance against either an AL Central or an AL West team. Now, the two best non-division winners will face off in a one-game playoff that determines the remainder of their season.
The top team in the AL East will at least get a best-of-five series under their belt without the pressure of winning just one game to advance. As we all know, winning the AL East is about as tough as it gets in the MLB, and this year won't be any different.
Even though there is an extra wild card in the AL, winning that won't be easy either as competition in the AL West has grown and an extra spot could easily go to either the Texas Rangers or the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.
Jayson Stark tweeted that the Wild Card game winner will now be allowed to face off in the Division Series against a team in their own division. In other words, the Boston Red Sox, New York Yankees, Tampa Bay Rays, Toronto Blue Jays, and Baltimore Orioles can all be matched up against each other in the ALDS, something that couldn't happen before.
In the past we have had to wait until the ALCS for a Yankees-Red Sox matchup, but now those sought games could be seen even earlier.
The Red Sox will have to be on their A-game from day one this season, and play to their fullest capacity throughout all 162 games. Will this extra wild card help the Red Sox in 2012 or will it end up hurting them?