MLB Adds Second Wild Card: 12 Ways This Is an Exciting Change
According to Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports, Major League Baseball is expected to announce tomorrow, at the earliest, the expansion of the playoffs from eight to 10 teams.
Rosenthal later tweeted "Told agreement on expanded playoffs isn't final, but will happen. Same thing on announcement. Not certain for tomorrow, but possible."
I will take a different route here, going over 12 reasons why this is an exciting change for Major League Baseball.
12. Divisional Rivalries in September Are Important Again
The Red Sox and Yankees are THE rivalry in Major League Baseball no matter how you look at it, and for years they were the two most dominant regular season teams in the American League. Come September they would sit back, lick their wounds and cruise into the postseason not really caring who won the division and who was the wild card.
How will this pending rule change that?
Teams will be gunning more for the divisional victory and that all important bye, which adds even more intrigue to a late season Yankees-Red Sox series when two or three games separate them.
This doesn't fall solely on the Yankees and Red Sox, but also the late season series' between any two rival clubs (Braves-Phillies, Cardinals-Brewers, Angels-Rangers, Tigers-Twins, and even Rays-Red Sox).
Rivalries would get a much needed boost here—even rivalries between wild card/division leaders and cellar dwellers (Mets-Phillies, Dodgers-Giants, Cubs-Cardinals, A's-Angels, White Sox-Tigers, Orioles-Yankees).
11. The End of the Epic Collapse?
Will the extra wild card end the epic collapse? I say yes.
Reason 1: Less pressure in late September.
With that extra wild card spot, particularly among the divisional leaders, teams like the 2007 Mets and 2011 Red Sox & Braves would have started playing a little more loosely when they went on a bad stretch.
Reason 2: The chance to "back-in"
Yeah, that's not exactly what you want, but in this day-and-age of professional sports, backing-in isn't exactly a terrible thing. They at least have that next game, and if they win it, they are back in the playoffs.
10. The One-Game Playoff
The one-game playoff is arguably the most exciting game in baseball. Since the MLB added a wild card in 1994 there have been five play-in games, three of them for the wild card.
The first two of the play-in games, in 1998 and 1999, were for the NL wild card. The Cubs beat the Giants 5-3, and the Mets beat the Reds 5-0. The last three games, however, have been decided by 1-run and two went extra innings.
The one-game playoff is extremely exciting, not to mention the excitement of the win-and-in scenario. Remember how exciting that last day of the 2011 regular season was? Two one-game playoffs in the same day will create compelling baseball.
9. More Teams Have the Chance to Make Playoffs
If this isn't obvious, I don't know what is. Of course, by adding another spot per league, two additional teams will obviously make the playoffs.
Teams like the Miami Marlins, Washington Nationals, New York Mets, Tampa Bay Rays, Toronto Blue Jays, Baltimore Orioles in tough, top-heavy divisions now have the opportunity to make the playoffs, even if arguably the two best teams in their leagues are in the division (Yankees & Red Sox, Braves & Phillies).
8. More Meaningful Games in September
More meaningful games in September would be huge for teams across the country. Since the wild card was introduced (outside of a shortened 1995 season), there have only been three wild card winners with under 90 wins. Those teams were the 2005 Astros (89-73), 2006 Dodgers (88-74) and 1996 Orioles (88-74).
There was even a 100-win team—the 2001 Oakland Athletics—that won 102 games. Yes, I said 102. A majority of wild-card teams win 91.5 games on average in the National League, and 94.68 on average in the American League.
The National League number in the last five years has stayed steady around the 90-92 win mark, and in the American League you typically need 94+ wins. In 2011, the 91-win Tampa Bay Rays had the lowest win-total for an AL wild card winner since 2000, when the Seattle Mariners also had 91—the only team lower, the 1996 Orioles.
Through recent history there have been many 88+ win teams to miss out on the playoffs, and even nine 90+ win teams miss the playoffs. The best team to not make the playoffs? A tie between the 2002 Red Sox & Mariners, 2003 Mariners, and 2005 Indians. All finished with 93 wins in each of those seasons. Ironically enough, they were all American League squads.
The 2002 season saw a high of three 90+ win teams not make the playoffs—the aforementioned Red Sox & Mariners as well as 92-win Dodgers, who finished third in their division.
Add the wild card slot and you'll see some increased competition as well as more deserving teams in the playoffs. Still, don't make this like the NBA or even NHL when you play 82 games to eliminate only about half the league—which takes me directly to my next slide.
7. Playoffs Are Still Very Exclusive
The NFL and MLB do things the right way. Playoffs are tough to make, and not merely a given after an average season.
Playoffs in the NFL and MLB are very exclusive, as just 12 NFL teams and now 10 MLB teams make the playoffs. About a third of the teams in the league will make the playoffs at years end.
In the NHL and NBA 16 teams make the playoffs in each league, and sometimes the seven and eight seeds are under-.500 teams.
Could you have imagined the Cleveland Indians making the playoffs last year (8th best record in AL at 80-82), or even the Washington Nationals (80-81)? In an NBA-NHL format, it would have happened.
What would have been wrong about the playoffs last year had the Braves and Red Sox also been apart of the fun? Not a thing, unless you're a fan in Tampa Bay or St. Louis.
Even adding two teams makes the MLB playoffs still exclusive.
6. Pressure to Win the Division
How important is winning the division in baseball today, compared to last year at this time? Extremely important.
As we found out on last year's crazy final day of the regular season, anything can happen in one game. The Yankees could lose a large lead, a reliable closer for the Red Sox could blow it in the ninth. A good rookie in Atlanta could flop under the pressure, or even a team just taking care of business they should.
ANYTHING CAN, AND WILL HAPPEN!
How much harder will the Phillies, Yankees, Rangers, Tigers, Giants or anyone push in September to make sure they win that division? Again, I think they will work much harder to secure that automatic berth into a lesser crap-shoot best of five series.
Winning the division will be absolutely vital and will bring more prestige back to that title.
5. Increased Exposure
Increased exposure is always a good thing, whether in sports, or, quite frankly, anywhere. I'm not just talking about media exposure here—because that's always a great thing—but I'm talking exposure in the baseball markets.
Teams draw as long as they have something to play for. Look at the Pirates attendance figures last year all the way up through their improbable run to the division lead in late July. Then look at their mid-collapse-and-beyond numbers. It's staggering.
It doesn't just happen in Pittsburgh, it happens around baseball. Fans come and go as the team rises and falls in the standings, with the exception of a few locations.
National exposure for some of these clubs is extremely important as well. Being a Pirates fan I can't tell you the last time they were on national television, but they were candidates several times this year, which is very promising.
Local exposure amongst the casual fans will also rise and fall based, once again, on results. If a team is in it even in mid-late August, they will get more fans out to the ballpark and teams will catch that baseball fever.
4. New Broadcast Opportunities
Will Fox keep its playoff rights and broadcast these two new play-in games? Will ESPN take them, or will TBS get them? Or perhaps even a new broadcast company jumps in and makes a bid.
Either way, there could be additional broadcast opportunities to have baseball in their lineup. What will the ratings see for this new one-game playoff for each league? How will it go over for the networks?
3. Increased Revenue
Much like my No. 5 reason, increased exposure—in which I tried my hardest not to mention money—a team's success and chance for the post-season near the end of the season will bring out more fans, which in turn gives a team more money.
When a fan pays the price of admission, they likely will use their money at other places in the park, whether it be grabbing a burger, the specialty sandwich, a jersey or even a yearbook. That turns into additional revenue for teams.
Like I said earlier, the better the team does the more fans pay attention, especially in cities that have much better football teams to look forward to in September (Pittsburgh, Baltimore & Houston, I'm looking at you).
Get the fans attention late season, and you'll garner more ticket sales and revenue. Make that one-game playoff and you have an offseason's worth of attention to capitalize on.
2. Epic Results
One-game playoffs have been absolutely epic. Even the standard win-or-go-home situation. Everyone was seemingly watching that Yankees-Rays game last year when Evan Longoria mashed a frozen-rope line-drive homer to send the Rays to the postseason.
How about Jonathan Papelbon blowing a lead against the Orioles? Or the Braves losing to a Phillies team full of triple-A guys?
How about the epic 1-0 White Sox play-in win in '08, or the Twins 5-4 12-inning thriller in 09, or Matt Holliday's post-season stage-setting slide into home to end the '07 NL wild card play-in game after 13-innings?
How about a cold Bucky Dent blasting the Yankees past the Red Sox 5-4 in 1978?
Point is, these one-game playoffs over the history of the game have been incredible. All eyes are on this game, and for the teams involved, they often make it worth it.
1. New Stars with a Chance to Breakout
Who can forget Matt Holliday's slide into home to end the wild 13-inning 9-8 win by the Rockies over the San Diego Padres in the 2007 NL wild card tie-breaker?
Matt Holliday only went 2-for-6 on the night with two RBI's, but he scored that incredible run to win the game and actually sewed up the National League batting title on that extra day—ending the season with a .340 batting average. His two RBI's also put him one ahead of Ryan Howard to win the RBI title.
In the moment of that slide, Holliday went from being a local darling to the average baseball fan to being a national icon. His popularity was at its highest, and it made him one of the hottest commodities in baseball.
In the 2008 AL Central tie-breaker between the White Sox and Twins, John Danks was masterful in his two-hit shutout, and Jim Thome played offensive hero with a solo homer in the 1-0 win. Danks broke out after that game and became a hot commodity, helping to push him to the success he still sees today.
Play-in games produce new stars, especially in the national spotlight, with eyes watching the game from all over the country. Look at what has happened to Matt Holliday since then.
Heck, look at Evan Longoria last year after his home-run in the epic Rays comeback—his popularity has gotten even higher.
Who's the next star to emerge from a high-pressure, win-or-go-home game? We'll find out in October.