By now, most sports fans have heard the recent announcement that Major League Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig and the MLB team owners have voted to add two more wild-card teams, one from each league, to the playoff equation.
This could shake out in many ways, including Selig's suggestion that a one-game playoff will determine which wild-card team moves on to play in the National League Division Series. This idea would be something that would replicate what we have seen in previous years when the division or wild card is tied at the end of the season. In the event of an end-of-season tie, a play-in game takes place to determine which team goes into the playoffs.
In the case of an extra wild-card team, every year would have this one-game playoff, but its allure would be a little less for the teams that perennially are the wild-card winners. If the plans go ahead as Selig wants, it means that winning the wild card—well, that it means nothing.
The wild card winners will not be guaranteed a spot in the playoffs. Instead, they will have to play for one spot. What it does do, however, is give a little more meaning to winning the division, because if you win your division you don't have to worry about possibly missing out on the playoffs.
With this approach, the extra wild-card team really is nothing but a roadblock for the other wild card team. It is just adding one game that really seems meaningless to the playoff roster. Either way, one wild-card team will make the playoffs, but this way it just takes one extra game to get there. It could be exciting and drama-filled to watch, but Selig also has other options.
Wild-Card Weekend and the First-Round Bye
They could just add the extra wild card teams and have them play each other in a three- or five-game series to determine who makes it to the divisional round. It could be like football, in which "wild-card weekend" has the wild-card teams play, but unlike football it would be wild card against wild card, with at least one guaranteed a spot in the next round.
With a wild-card weekend, MLB could also give the top teams in each league a first round bye. The No. 2 would play the No. 3, and the No. 4 would play the No. 5. There is no easy way to explain this without an example, so lets take last year's playoff roster and add the additional wild-card teams by the teams that just missed.
In this case, we have the No. 1 Philadelphia Phillies and New York Yankees with the best records in their leagues, respectively, so they would get the first-round byes.
The No. 2 seeds would be the Texas Rangers and Milwaukee Brewers. The No. 3 seeds would be the Detroit Tigers and Arizona Diamondbacks. The No. 4 seeds would be 2011's wild cards, the St. Louis Cardinals and Tampa Bay Rays, and the No. 5 seeds would be the additional wild cards, the Atlanta Braves and Boston Red Sox.
Teams in the Same Division Could Play against Each Other in the First Round
As the playoffs currently go, the team with the best record plays the team with the worst unless the teams are in the same division. If there was no first-round bye, and based on last year's final standings, both the Phillies and Yankees wouldn't have played the No. 5 seeds because they were in the same division. Because of this, the Phillies would have played the No. 4 seed Cardinals, and the Yankees the No. 3 Tigers, because the Yankees wouldn't have been able to play the No. 4 Rays, either.
I think this idea needs to go in order to ensure fairness in the playoffs. The Yankees had the best record, so why should they have to face a middle-of-the-pack team instead of a worse team? By adding two new wild-card teams, MLB should also look to eliminate the rule that you can't play a team in your division in the first round of the playoffs. It should be based on seeds alone.
With 10 Playoff Teams, MLB can Play by the Seed
If Selig wants to have the wild cards play each other, then it would be the No. 4 versus No. 5 seed. Another option he has is to just play the seeds. Instead of giving a "wild-card weekend," as it were, this would just add two additional teams.
In this case, this is how Round 1 of the 2011 playoffs would have been scheduled, with each series being five games in the Wild Card Round:
No. 1 Phillies and No. 1 Yankees get first-round byes.
No. 2 Rangers vs. No. 5 Red Sox, and No. 2 Brewers vs. No. 5 Braves
No. 3 Tigers vs. No. 4 Rays, and No. 3 Diamondbacks vs. No. 4 Cardinals
Round 2, the divisional round, would play just as they do now, with two possible exceptions. The highest seed would play the lowest seed regardless of division, and MLB could extend this series to seven games or keep it at five.
Round 3, the championship round, and Round 4, the World Series, would play as they currently do.
Whatever happens with the playoff structure, all that is known now is that a new wild-card team will be added as soon as the 2012 season.