(This was written before the Braves and Red Sox decided they really didn’t want to win the Wild Card that easily.)
With one of the least exciting pennant races about to unfold, there is sure to be more of an outcry to add a second Wild Card team to further separate the Wild Card winner from the division winners. I understand the reasoning — the teams would likely have to use their best starters in a one-game playoff, while the division winners would have their best starters rested and ready-to-go in game one of the divisional series, hence giving teams that won their divisions an advantage over second place finishers.
I go back and forth about it — on one hand, it would make what should be an exciting Yankees-Red Sox fight-to-the-finish actually mean something; neither team would want to face that one-game playoff and would fight for the division. The way it is now, both teams are getting in, so who cares? Granted, home field advantage is important, but not at the risk of using your best starters on the final game of the season and losing them until game three of the divisional series.
But then you are diluting the playoff pool, as well as actually punishing a far superior Wild Card team which may have finished several games over the second team (the Red Sox currently have a nine-game lead over the Rays, for example).
There is an easy fix, in the National League, at least — go to four four-team divisions. This way all of the playoff teams are division winners. I would realign this way:
The only team that is geographically out of place is the Rockies, but there is no place else to put them.
In this scenario, teams would play the other teams in their divisions 24 times, up from the current 18. Certainly the best team would win the division.
This is tough to do in the American League because it only has 14 teams. You would end up with two divisions with three teams, which wouldn’t be very fair to the teams in the other divisions — teams in the four-team divisions would have a 25% chance of making the playoffs, while the three-team division teams would have a 33% chance. Nobody wants to add two teams — the talent pool is diluted enough. The AL would have to stay the way it is. I don’t like that idea, but the leagues already have different rules (DH), so why not more different rules?
But here’s a crazy idea — how about three divisions of four teams, and one division of just the Yankees and Red Sox? The Rays, Orioles and Blue Jays all complain about not being able to compete with the big spenders (although the Rays have done very well of late), so why not separate them from the rest of the world? Of course it really wouldn’t be fair — they would both go into the season with a 50% chance of making the playoffs. But instead of both teams making the playoffs like they seemingly do every year (in the past eight seasons, both teams have been in the playoffs together five times), only one would, giving another team a chance to break in. And besides, either team is always in the playoffs — since divisional play began in 1995, the Yankees or Red Sox have been in every post season.
Here’s what the league would look like:
This will never be done, and I’m not saying it should — it’s just a crazy idea that popped into my head (actually, while I was writing this post!) that I am just throwing it out there. The NL plan, though, can and in my opinion should be implemented.