Major League Baseball plays a grueling 162-game schedule only to reward four teams from the American League and four teams from the National League with a chance at the World Series title.
Simply put, there is nothing like the playoffs in any of Major League Baseball, the National Basketball Association, the National Football League, and the National Hockey League.
Lets take a quick look at how the other three major North American sports conduct their championship tournaments.
National Football League
The NFL is a 32-team league and they award 12 teams with a chance at the Vince Lombardi Trophy. They grant the top four seeds in each conference to the division winners. Then the two teams with the best records whom did not win their division get spots.
Then the top two teams in each conference get byes to the semi-finals while the bottom four playoff seeds fight it out in a winner take all wild-card round.
The winners of the wild-card round them meet the two teams waiting for them for the chance to play for the Vince Lombardi Trophy.
National Hockey League and the National Basketball Association
Both of these leagues employ very similar playoff formats. The top eight teams in each conference make the playoffs, with the top three seeds awarded to the division winners regardless of record.
Then four round of seven game series are played to decide the champion. No byes are granted to any teams in either league. In the first round the first seed plays the eight, second plays seventh, third plays sixth, and fourth plays fifth.
In the subsequent round the highest seed remaining always plays the lowest seed remaining and so on and so forth.
What System Should the MLB employ?
I would like to see the MLB research using the same system that the NHL and NBA currently use. If the regular season was cut down to 154 games, this would allow for the extra playoff games required.
The first round would be a five-game series, the second round would be another 5 game series, the American and National League finals would be seven games, and the World Series would remain seven games.
The division winners of the regular season would retain the top three seeds in both the National and American leagues. Seeds four through eight would be decided based on the win-loss record of the remaining teams.
This would allow more teams to, at the very least, play meaningful baseball in September. In turn these teams would be able to keep drawing good crowds for games, thus making the MLB a better overall financial success.
American League Playoffs 2009 Under This New System
(1) New York Yankees vs. (8) Tampa Bay Rays
(2) Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim vs. (7) Seattle Mariners
(3) Minnesota Twins vs. (6) Detroit Tigers
(4) Boston Red Sox vs. (5) Texas Rangers
National League Playoffs 2009 Under This New System
(1) Los Angeles Dodgers vs. (8) Chicago Cubs
(2) Philadelphia Phillies vs. (7) Atlanta Braves
(3) St. Louis Cardinals vs. (6) Florida Marlins
(4) Colorado Rockies vs. (5) San Francisco Giants
American League Playoffs 2008 Under This New System
(1) Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim vs. (8) Cleveland Indians
(2) Tampa Bay Rays vs. (7) Toronto Blue Jays
(3) Chicago White Sox vs. (6) Minnesota Twins
(4) Boston Red Sox vs. (5) New York Yankees
National League Playoffs 2008 Under This New System
(1) Chicago Cubs vs. (8) Florida Marlins
(2) Philadelphia Phillies vs. (7) St. Louis Cardinals
(3) Los Angeles Dodgers vs. (6) Houston Astros
(4) Milwaukee Brewers vs. (5) New York Mets
American League Playoffs 2007 Under This New System
(1) Boston Red Sox vs. (8) Minnesota Twins
(2) Cleveland Indians vs. (7) Toronto Blue Jays
(3) Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim vs. (6) Seattle Mariners
(4) New York Yankees vs. (5) Detroit Tigers
National League Playoffs 2007 Under This New System
(1) Arizona Diamondbacks vs. (8) Milwaukee Brewers
(2) Philadelphia Phillies vs. (7) Atlanta Braves
(3) Chicago Cubs vs. (6) New York Mets
(4) Colorado Rockies vs. (5) San Diego Padres
American League Playoffs 2006 Under This New System
(1) New York Yankees vs. (8) Boston Red Sox
(2) Minnesota Twins vs. (7) Toronto Blue Jays
(3) Oakland A's vs. (6) Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
(4) Detroit Tigers vs. (5) Chicago White Sox
National League Playoffs 2006 Under This New System
(1) New York Mets vs. (8) Atlanta Braves
(2) San Diego Padres vs. (7) Cincinnati Reds
(3) St. Louis Cardinals vs. (6) Houston Astros
(4) Los Angeles vs. (5) Philadelphia Phillies
How Many Teams Would Have Made The Post Season That Did Not?
The Texas Rangers, Seattle Mariners, San Francisco Giants, Florida Marlins, Atlanta Braves, Toronto Blue Jays, Houston Astros, and Cincinnati Reds have not seen playoff action between 2006-2009. Under the new system all of these teams would have made the playoffs at least once in the past four seasons.
Instead in the American League the past four years only nine teams have seen playoff berths. The New York Yankees (3), Boston Red Sox (3), Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim (3), Minnesota Twins (2), Tampa Bay Rays (1), Chicago White Sox (1), Cleveland Indians (1), Oakland A's (1), Detroit Tigers (1).
In the National League in the past four years, much like the American League, only nine teams have made playoff appearances. The Philadelphia Phillies (3), Los Angeles Dodgers (3), St. Louis Cardinals (2), Colorado Rockies (2), Chicago Cubs (2), Milwaukee Brewers (1), Arizona Diamondbacks (1), New York Mets (1), San Diego Padres (1).
This means only nine teams have been to the playoffs more than once in the past four years. That has left 21 Major League Baseball franchises that have only seen one or no playoffs in the past four years.
It is often said that winning is the best marketing tool. Teams in the playoff picture also tend to spark more interest in the game in the respective cities.
Granted some teams like the Kansas City Royals, Baltimore Orioles, Pittsburgh Pirates, and Washington Nationals keep themselves out of the playoffs year after year by not fielding competitive teams.
But the eight teams mentioned above that would have made the expanded playoffs are constantly on the bubble of the playoff picture. Some playoff baseball would go a long way to restoring the fan bases in some of these cities.
Also, just simply competing for a playoff spot late in the season would be good enough for many of the starving fans of these cities.
Obstacles To Implementing Expanded Playoffs
Firstly, to convince owners to give up eight games of the regular season and four potential home dates could be a trying process. Who can really blame the owners at the end of the day that is money in their pockets. Instead they may have a chance at a couple playoff home dates, but not every season surely.
Just like every sport, baseball has it's "purists" as they are called. Every sport (Basketball, Hockey, Football, etc) has fans that believe the game is just fine the way that it is. They are right, Baseball is a great game the way it is.
But at the end of the day Major League Baseball is in the entertainment business. Their biggest obligation is to ensure the majority of their fans enjoy their product and keep coming back for more, while also drawing in new fans. Having more teams competitive later in the season draws in more fans and keeps the attention of current fans.
In my opinion, the National Hockey League and Major League Baseball seem to be the least willing to change among the major sports leagues.
Although the National Hockey League has come a long way since the lockout of 2004-05 in terms of rule changes. Major League Baseball needs to follow suit and find some way to put more parity into their game and make it for all fans.
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