The Mets are about to begin a series with the National League Central’s Cincinnati Reds. Despite the fact that both teams have the identical record of 50-51 and are 8.5 games out in the Wild Card race, the atmospheres surrounding the two clubs are quite different. While the Amazins are set on dealing away Carlos Beltran and selling off some of their parts, the Reds seem intent on adding a player or two by the trading deadline and making a serious push for the playoffs. That is because the Mets currently sit 14.5 games behind the National League East leading Philaldelphia Phillies, while Cincinnati is only three games behind the Brewers, Cardinals and Pirates in the NL Central. It’s during times like these that make me think more about altering the Major League Baseball playoff structure.
I might just be a little bitter as a result of the standings, but the truth is the MLB playoff system could use a little retooling. There have been talks of realignment throughout the season, a process which would create two, fifteen team leagues in which the top five teams in each would make the playoffs. It’s not a bad idea, considering that just eight out of MLB’s thirty teams make the playoffs each season, the lowest percentage among the big four sports in the United States (in the NBA and NHL, sixteen out of thirty teams earn a playoff berth. In the NFL it’s more respectable, with twelve out of thirty-two teams, or 37.5%, making the postseason). That being said, there a few problems with this proposal, such as deciding which team would switch from the NL to the AL and whether the idea of one interleague match-up during every set of series is appealing. However there is an alternative solution which would eliminate the mess of moving a team and interleague scheduling: simply add another Wild Card spot to each league.
With ten teams making the postseason, MLB would still have the lowest percentage of playoff bound teams, but it would give more clubs a shot down the stretch. For example, instead of the Mets being 8.5 games out of a playoff spot, they’d only be 4.5 games back, which might change the front office’s position on whether to be buyers or sellers at the trade deadline. But maybe more importantly, it is plausible that more fans would tune into the team, either over the airwaves or at the ballpark, if they thought their team had a legitimate shot at the playoffs. More people watching would mean more money for a playoff-aspiring club and ultimately the league as a whole.
As for how the playoffs would work, the three division winners in each league would receive a first round bye, similar to how the teams with the top two records in each NFL conference receive a first round bye. The two Wild Card teams would play a quick, best of three series (one game leaves too much up to luck, so I’d keep it a best of three, just like the regular season), which would only extend the playoffs by about four days or so. The winner of the Wild Card round would go onto play the team with the best record in the league, and the playoffs would resume as usual from there. This system also gives an incentive for teams to finish first in their division and with the best record overall in order to ensure an easier path to the World Series.
So maybe I just want this new system because I want the Mets to have a better shot at the playoffs, but it does actually make sense. The longer that any club is in a playoff race, the more exciting the games should be for the fans, meaning they will attend more contests and stay interested further into the season. For now though, I’ll just continue to hope that the Amazins go on an incredible run and lament the fact that they don’t play in the NL Central.
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