Expanding the Playoffs?

Steve O Speak

Peter Gammons of ESPN had an interesting take today when he suggested expanding the number of teams that make the playoffs in baseball. His idea is one that hopefully gains some traction, because it is long overdue. Gammons suggests that they have a second Wild Card team and there is a three game “play-in” series in each league. I think it is highly intriguing, but say why stop there, and why limit it to a three game series?

The fact that only four teams in each league make the postseason is ridiculous (while we are at it can we expand by two teams so both leagues are even, and go to 4 divisions like the NFL). The NBA and NHL both have 30 teams like baseball and they have 16 teams make the playoffs, they also have ‘best of series’ showing its possible for baseball to expand as well. Now 8 teams per league would be too much, but going to an NFL format, where six teams (per league) make it and the top two division leaders get a bye in round one, makes a lot of sense. I would like to see the battle for three Wild Card spots (two if they did move to four 4-team divisions per league, but I shouldn’t get too greedy) opposed to what we have this year, when the playoffs are predetermined with 10 days to go (with the exception of the AL Central).

When you think about it an MLB season is twice as long as the NHL’s or NBA’s (in games played), and 10 times as long as the NFL, yet 22 teams don’t have a chance to win the World Series. I think we should expand the number of teams, not just to benefit the fans interest in the waning months of the season, or to help small market teams compete, but to add another incentive for teams to compete all they way to the end. Teams like the Tampa Bay Rays and Texas Rangers might have acquired talent at the trade deadline this year, if their playoff chances were that much better. Its not just small to mid-market teams that would change their strategy, look at the New York Mets, their season went off the tracks early with a number of big injuries. By the time the trade deadline rolled around the Phillies were entrenched in first, which left the Mets competing with about 7 other teams for the NL’s one Wild Card spot. They decided, and rightly so, that with little chance of making the playoffs they would essentially ‘punt’ on the rest of the season, and not give up any prospects in trades. Now if their post season chances were higher, they might have made some moves and been in the chase. The one detractor that most people say is that by extending the post season, baseball will go on until mid-November. I don’t think that has to be true, and with a few simple changes the problem can be solved. First I think you do what Gammons suggested and start the season half a week earlier. Next you eliminate at least two of the off days that teams get in April. Then you eliminate some of the off days that are already built into the playoff schedule. Right now there is only one ‘travel’ day built into the World Series, yet there are 3-4 built into the Divisional and Championship Series. Eliminate those and you have plenty of time for an extra round of playoffs. Which among other reasons to sell owners on expanding, will add millions of dollars in national television and radio money, to all baseball teams, not just the 12 in the playoffs.

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