We've heard for a while now about how the Astros could be moving to the American League to create two leagues of fifteen teams each — thus ensuring that Interleague Play lasts all season long. And Lord knows Bud Selig has been talking about the possibility of adding an additional Wild Card team for a long time. But both of those things are now officially happening: The Astros will move to the A.L. as soon as 2013, and the addition of one more Wild Card team in each league could happen as soon as next season.
We're not as bothered as we thought we'd be by the realignment, even if it means Interleague Play will now last all season. After all, the concept of two totally separate leagues has been eroding for decades now. It's the new playoff system, though, that might take some getting used to. Under the new format, the two Wild Card teams in each league will meet in a one-game playoff to advance to the division series. And Selig says that the committee that settled on the new format was unanimously in favor of it. From the Daily News:
The Daily News first reported in Thursday’s editions that MLB would use a one-game playoff format for the two wild card teams. Selig said each member of his 14-man committee was in favor of a one-game wild card format rather than other alternatives such as a best-of-three.
Perhaps a one-game playoff is preferable to a longer series, though those in favor of keeping the format as-is would argue that it's not necessarily preferable to leaving things alone. But like we wrote in the spring, there's something to be said in favor of fans in more cities getting a chance to see their teams compete for a title, even if it means fans of two of them will get to watch just one playoff game before their team is eliminated. The question, then, is whether it hurts the balance between a relevant regular season and an exciting postseason. Or to put it another way, does it dilute the achievement of making the playoffs too much? And the more we think about it, we don't think it does: Some team in each league will get to call itself a playoff participant because it reached the Wild Card playoff game, but only the one that advances to the next round will get the full playoff experience of a multi-game series, and only one of those two fanbases will get to have their emotions toyed with for a week or more, as is October tradition.
We'd note, however, that the new format doesn't necessarily guarantee more excitement. Remember those insane Wild Card races this year? And how the final day of the regular season this year was one of the greatest nights of baseball ever? None of that would have happened under the new format. Instead, the Red Sox and and Braves would have still gotten to play in the same one-game playoff they'd have played in if they ran away with the Wild Card, and by the final day of the season, the Rays and Cardinals would have locked up their spot in those winner-take-all games as well.
The change in the playoff format, by the way, could have an especially big impact in the American League East, a division that has so often produced two playoff teams. There's now a much bigger incentive for a team to win its division: Previously, doing so meant a better playoff matchup and perhaps home field advantage in a series or two. Now, though, it means avoiding a scary one-game playoff. Getting to call yourself a playoff team is nice, but extending your season by just one game is hardly satisfying.