What Would Realignment Mean for Baseball?

Steve O Speak

With reports that MLB is talking realignment, I wanted to take a minute to see what impact it could have on the game. The proposal would make a number of drastic changes, but it is important to remember that it is rumored to be ’50-50′ at best.

The first move would be to move a team from the N.L., likely the Astros (though I’d guess Arizona and Colorado are on the short list as well), to balance out the two leagues 15-15. The problem with that is with the current structure, you’d have teams needing to play interleague games throughout the entire season. And while that isn’t as big of a deal in other sports, the primary difference of the D.H. between the two leagues would lead to some serious issues. Can you imagine an N.L. team going into the last series of the season, and they have to face an A.L. team, but don’t have the offensive firepower to matchup? Or even worse could be the opposite situation where an American League team, needing to win for a playoff berth, having to sit one of their best hitters on the bench the final series of the season?

While I love the idea in practice, because right now your odds are worse for making the playoffs in the N.L. than the A.L. (discounting the fact that the A.L. East dominates the Wild Card), I don’t think it will work. Unless of course the league either expands by two teams or the National League adopts the DH (and for baseball purists, the DH isn’t going away from the A.L. so that is a non-starter).

The next drastic change would be the elimination of the divisions. There would be just two singular 15 team divisions and the top 5 teams from each would advance to the playoffs (adding the 5th playoff team will probably happen no matter what). This would of course eliminate the division races, but could actually be better since there would hopefully be tight playoff races at the end of the season. And with teams getting into the postseason based on merit, and not just winning a weak division, you should have even better playoffs. The one downside is the whole division rivalry issue.

Not only would this take some of the sting out of traditional rivals like the Yankees-Red Sox, Dodgers-Giants, and Cubs-Cardinals, but just in general it would change things. Right now in Washington a team looking to play spoiler more than anything else, a game against the Phillies, Mets, Braves and Marlins mean more than against anyone else. Sure there is a regional vibe that would still be there for the Phillies and the Mets, but I think there is a distinct difference. I mean Atlanta is a 10 hour drive from D.C. and Miami is even further, yet those games have a bigger feel for fans, than say a Pirates game (4 hours) or Reds game (8 hours).

The other factor with Division rivalries is that as it stands now you know that you are going to close your season with games against opponents in your division. So in the final two weeks of the season you will at least have 1 shot (sometimes 2) to put a hurting on any division opponent fighting for that Wild Card (or change the leader board inside your division). Now it will just be luck of the draw to even face an opponent who has a playoff shot, and even then all you are doing is giving the berth to another team in your league.

The one big positive that would come out of the realignment would be the instituting of balanced schedules. I realize that it is a money saver in terms of travel costs, and a money maker at the gate, but unbalanced schedules just aren’t good for baseball. I know they might work in other sports, but for baseball it just doesn’t make sense.

Look at the Baltimore Orioles, they are going to play about half of their games against the American League East. A division in which everyone has at least a .484 winning percentage or better. Baltimore is at the .484 mark right now, but would likely be above .500 with a more balanced schedule. The Orioles are 8-7 against the West and 11-9 against the central, but are just 9-15 against the American League East (and what doesn’t bode well for them is they have more games remaining against the East than other teams do). The 4th place Blue Jays are also hurt by this as they are just 11-16 against the East, but 7-6 vs the West and 13-9 vs the Central. In any other division in the league these teams would be playoff contenders. While a balanced schedule alone wouldn’t guarantee them anything, it could help in other ways as well. Now teams like the O’s and Jays will have months where they face the Yankees, Red Sox and Rays 12-15 times. The Orioles, for instance had the big three for 12 of their 28 games in April (a couple got postponed) and also had to face the Tigers, Indians and Rangers for another 10 games. That is a brutal way to begin the year, and it actually turned out better than it originally appeared, since the Twins and White Sox were their other opponents and before the year they looked tougher than the Indians (and even maybe the Tigers). The Orioles also don’t end the season favorably as they have 15 games against the big 3 of the East, plus series against the Tigers and Angels.

The unbalanced schedule also gives advantages to teams in weaker divisions inflate their record and look deserving of a playoff berth when they really aren’t. The Reds are the prime example of this right now. They are 34-32 overall, but 24 of their wins and just 14 losses are at the hands of their N.L. Central brethren. They are just 3-7 versus the East and 7-8 against the West (which isn’t really known for their talented teams). They are on pace to win about 48 games against their own division, meaning they can play under .500 baseball against the rest of the league and still get 90+ wins. Balanced scheduling would help make sure that some teams wouldn’t be given such easy paths to successful seasons. Sure the Reds can still beat up on the Cubs and Astros, they just won’t have them make up such a high percentage of their season.

What do you guys think? What concepts of realignment are good and what would you like to see going forward?

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