I'm thinking ahead to the postseason. Granted, I'm thinking far ahead, because the postseason on my mind at this particular moment is the one taking place in October 2012, not '11. Undoubtedly, the 2011 playoffs take precedence in the present, given that we're just two weeks away from the end of the regular season, the American League West is undecided and both Wild Card chases suddenly have a lot more life than they did even a week ago.
But if you're the sort who likes to think ahead -- probably too far ahead for your own good -- then Wednesday's release of MLB's 2012 master schedule is provender for your plotting. And if you're in the "wait 'til next year" department of rooting interests, well, now you have a look at what you're waiting for. (The long-awaited pennant push begins on April 5 against the Nationals, Cubs fans.) The No. 1 takeaway from the schedule release, from my perspective, is that it ends on Oct. 3, with an intent again on wrapping up postseason play before the calendar flips to November. But it's going to take either a five-game World Series or further condensing of the postseason schedule to make that intent a reality. Thanks to the elimination of some unnecessary off-days, this season's postseason schedule, which begins on Friday, Sept. 30, can last up to four weeks total, if the World Series goes the full seven games. Given that the 2012 regular season will, like this year, end on a Wednesday, one would assume the postseason would again begin on a Friday -- Oct. 5. So a full, four-week postseason slate would mean Games 6 and 7 of the World Series would, if necessary, take place on Nov. 1 and 2. November baseball has become baseball's boogeyman. To avoid it in 2012, MLB would have to further chop down the October calendar, either through the elimination of a travel off-day or two and/or one or two of the days off built in between series. What we can say for certain is that the 2012 schedule, as presently presented, leaves no room in October alone for an expanded postseason field, which some would like to see as early as '12. This is, of course, a tentative schedule that's subject to change, but the arrangement, as is, would tend to back up the growing belief that such expansion isn't likely until '13, at the earliest. The debate over whether MLB should add a Wild Card to each league has been a hot-button issue for some time, augmented by the ensuing debate over whether the two Wild Cards should face each other in a single-elimination or best-of-three and whether playoff expansion should be tied to a realignment that balances the AL and NL at 15 teams apiece. Some would argue -- likely in vain -- that shortening the regular season back down to 154 games or scheduling in a doubleheader here or there would better allow for an expanded postseason field, as well as the expansion of the Division Series round from a best-of-five to a best-of-seven set. I wouldn't bet on either scenario becoming reality, but that doesn't prevent debate. The Wild Card and its related issues will have to be discussed in the upcoming collective-bargaining talks. If sweeping changes are agreed upon, the 2012 season has potential to be either the beginning or the end of an era, in that regard. It will definitely mark the beginning of an era in Miami. The Marlins will christen their retractable-roof digs with a one-game homestand against the Cardinals on April 4. That's the only game taking place that day, so the Miami Marlins, as they'll come to be known, and their new home will rightly be the center of attention. We will also have the usual Interleague intrigue, from a historical perspective, in that 21 past World Series matchups will be renewed, including the 2010 Fall Classic featuring the Giants and Rangers. They'll meet again in San Francisco on June 8-10. And of course, we'll have Kansas City's beautiful Kauffman Stadium getting its due designation as All-Star Game host on July 10. Beyond that, there's no telling what 2012 will entail. The schedule is but a framework, a canvas on which the storylines of a season will be painted. None of us are smart enough to know exactly what's coming -- especially when so much in the current season is unresolved. Still, sometimes it's fun to peek ahead, and that's what the annual schedule release allows. For some, it's an invitation to start daydreaming about a postseason picture yet to take shape. And yes, Cubs fan, I'm talking to you.
Anthony Castrovince is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his columns and his blog, CastroTurf, and follow him on Twitter at @Castrovince. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.