Major League Baseball announced last week that it is adding two Wild Card teams to the playoff format. Is this a good thing or a bad thing for the game?
I think it is a great thing, especially for the fans. Bud Selig has done another good thing for baseball. The additional Wild Cards will not only keep more fans watching games, but it will also keep the players playing harder for longer.
I know as a fan now that we expect players to play hard every game, because that is what they are being paid to do. But I played on some really bad teams over the course of my career, and I can honestly say that not every player played the game as hard as he could if the team got to July and was 15 games out of first place. What this does for the game is give teams that have no chance of winning their divisions a reason to play hard all year long.
Example: If I'm with the Blue Jays and I'm being honest with myself, I know that our chances of winning the American League East are slim. But our chances of being one of the top five teams in the AL are very real. So that is how it will help players stay focused and hungry much deeper into the season. Let's face it, if their weren't any Wild Cards last year, the month of September would have been boring from a fan's standpoint. But the Wild Card races kept the fans glued to their TVs. With an additional Wild Card in each league, figure that even more fans will be watching.
The only negative I can think of is the impact on the schedule this year. The Wild Card teams in each league will play their one-game playoff and the winner will play host to the first two games of the Division Series against the team that over the course of 162 games won the most in the league. That means the team with the best record will have to play the first two games of a best-of-five series on the road and won't realize its home-field advantage unless there is a Game 5.
That is a little hard to swallow. The players have played hard all season and won the most games in their league but must start the playoffs, possibly against the fifth-best team, on the road. That is not right. I know it is only for one year, but there are guys out there for whom it might be their only chance to play in the postseason.
Home-field advantage to me is not having the last game of a series in your home stadium, but the first two. We have all seen, especially over the past two years, that the team that gets hot at the right time is the team that wins. The Giants and the Cardinals both got hot at the right time. I don't care if the Wild Card team has to fly from the East Coast to the West Coast and play a game the next day, the Division Series should start in the cities of the teams with the better records. They earned it.
If the Red Sox, for example, win 102 games and win the AL East with the best record in the league, their fans potentially could wind up seeing only one game in the Division Series. I don't think that is right to the fans or the players.
All that being said, the addition of two playoff berths is another feather in Selig's cap. Every plan has its flaws. This year the schedule is the flaw. Come next year, it will be back to a 2-2-1 format and all of this will be a distant memory. I'm a big believer in saying that if you don't want to have messed-up travel, win your division. But this year, the team with the best record will be punished for winning the most games.
Mitch Williams is an analyst for MLB Network. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.