Dear MLB: Don't Just Expand the Playoffs

Anthony Brancato@@TenOfSwordsCorrespondent IDecember 1, 2010

SAN FRANCISCO - NOVEMBER 03:  San Francisco Giants manager Bruce Bochy (L) carries the World Series trophy at the conclusion of the Giants' victory parade on November 3, 2010 in San Francisco, California. Thousands of Giants fans lined the streets of San Francisco to watch the San Francisco Giants celebrate their 2010 World Series victory over the Texas Rangers.  (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

If baseball is in the mood to fix things that may or may not be actually broken, then why not fix everything, all at once?

First, there is the "Texas Rangers Problem": The 2010 AL champs, who make their home in the Central time zone, find themselves marooned in the same division—the American League West—with three teams from the Pacific time zone (the Angels, A's and Mariners), which is two time zones away. 

Second, there is the problem of the South being underrepresented in Major League Baseball when compared with the NFL, the NBA, and even the NHL.

But, fortunately, both of these situations can be remedied by the creation of two expansion teams in the American League and the concomitant realignment of both leagues into four four-team divisions.

Obviously, to solve the Texas Rangers Problem, one of the new teams will need to be in a Mountain or Pacific time zone city. This requirement means only three logical candidates stand out: Portland, Vancouver, and Las Vegas (if the latter is chosen, Pete Rose should be immediately reinstated by MLB and enshrined in the Hall of Fame to fend off the inexorable accusations of hypocrisy). The cities leading the parade for the Southern expansion teams are Charlotte, Nashville, Memphis, and New Orleans providing an intriguing, yet sentimental, option.

And now for the realignment:

American League East: Baltimore, Boston, N.Y. Yankees, Toronto (the present AL East minus Tampa Bay).

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American League North: Chicago White Sox, Cleveland, Detroit, Minnesota (the present AL Central minus Kansas City).

American League South: Kansas City, Tampa Bay, Texas, Charlotte/Memphis/Nashville/New Orleans (and if the Royals or Rays feel like complaining, well someone has to step up to the plate and do the right thing).

American League West: L.A. Angels, Oakland, Seattle, Las Vegas/Portland/Vancouver.

National League East: N.Y. Mets, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Washington (the Pirates never wanted to leave the East when the leagues realigned into three divisions in 1994, so there should be no problem here).

National League North: Chicago Cubs, Colorado, Milwaukee, St. Louis (the Rockies might not be terribly happy with this, but the same applies to them as to Kansas City and Tampa Bay).

National League South: Atlanta, Cincinnati, Florida, Houston (from the advent of the two-division format in 1969 through 1992, the Braves, Reds and Astros were not only together in the original NL West, but also hosted and visited the same opponents together during periods of inter-division play).

National League West: Arizona, L.A. Dodgers, San Diego, San Francisco (the present NL West minus Colorado).

As for the proposed expansion of the playoffs: It could go on as planned, except that in this scenario the playoff qualifiers would be four division winners and one wild card, rather than three division winners and two wild cards in each league (and 10 out of 32 major-league teams reaching the postseason, instead of 10 out of 30).  In most years, the division winner with the worst record in its league would finish with a poorer record than the wild-card team, and sooner or later such a team would win its division with a sub-.500 record. If that was the case, making the worst division winner face the wild card in a play-in series can easily be justified on fairness grounds.

The postseason can begin with the worst division winner and the wild card meeting in a best-of-three mini-series, the former getting two of the three games at home unless they finish below .500.  The team with one home game hosts the first game, followed by a doubleheader at the other team's park (if both such games prove necessary), with a day off for travel in between only if the teams are at least two time zones apart (the idea being to save time and to put both teams at the maximum disadvantage possible vis-a-vis the top three seeds).  

Flexible scheduling can be implemented throughout the playoffs; that is to say, the next round, up to and including the World Series, begins no more than two days after all of the winners from the previous round have been determined, rather than have one or more teams potentially sit idle for the better part of a week.

Last but not least, the regular-season schedule: let's say baseball decides both to add a new wild-card series and extends the Division Series to best-of-seven.  If that were the case, the regular season will clearly need to be shortened and most likely rolled back to the "traditional" 154 games.

Under this alignment, teams can play their three division rivals 18 times each (18 X 3 = 54), all four teams from one of the other three divisions in the same league nine times (two three-game series in one team's park and one three-game series in the other team's park) with the assignments for this rotating every three years (9 X 4 = 36), while battling against the teams in the other two divisions six times apiece (6 X 8 = 48).  That accounts for 138 games (54 + 36 + 48 = 138).  The remaining 16 games would be inter-league games, entire divisions being paired off on a four-year rotating basis; three games per individual matchup (3 X 4 = 12), with the other four games being Yankees-Mets, White Sox-Cubs etc., played in most cases as a single series, with two games in one team's park followed immediately by two games in the other team's park, ideally on the Memorial Day or Labor Day weekend, or Fourth of July weekend in years where one occurs (and in years where such teams' divisions are scheduled to meet, these teams would merely play each other seven times instead of four). 

Note: Under this format, non-three-game series, which the players' union simply love to hate, are entirely eliminated, except for the four-game sets matching up designated inter-league rivals.

All problems are solved in one fell swoop.

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