Minor Changes to the Wild Card and Playoff System


As a follow up to Stacie’s Wild Card post, I thought I would take a look at some of the scheduling problems, and some notable changes being made to the playoff system. Stacie looked at how the extra wild card could help the Dodgers sneak into the playoffs. Now let’s take a look at the expanded playoff system, changes to the current system, and Bud Selig’s scheduling challenges for this season. This is something that affects all Baseball fans……

Before 1969, Baseball didn’t have playoffs. The top team in each league won the pennant and moved on to the world series. If two teams were tied for the pennant in the American League there would be a one game playoff to determine the winner, which only happened once in the Junior Circuit. In the National League they would play a best two of three series, which happened four times, and saw the Dodgers involved in all four series.

1969, we saw Baseball go from 20 teams to 24 teams, and the inception of division play. Each league was realigned into two six team divisions, a west and east division in each league. The two first place division winners would play each other in a best three of five league championship series. If there was a tie for first place, there would be a one game playoff for the division title. In 1977 when Seattle and Toronto came into the American League, it expanded the Junior Circuit to 14 teams and two seven team divisions. In 1985, the LCS round was expanded to a best of 7 series. By 1993 when Colorado and Florida were born, Baseball was talking about expanded playoffs and realignment.

The next season Baseball went to the three division format, with three first place teams and one wild card team making the playoffs. The wild card team plays the team with the best record not in their own division, and the first round is a best three out of five series called the division series. Since 1994, Baseball has seen it’s postseason unchanged, but that could soon change either this year or by 2013. Bud Selig is trying to get his extra wild card added by this year, but he is having a hard time doing it because of scheduling problems.

In 2013, the Houston Astros will move into the American League west, thereby making both leagues three five team divisions and 15 teams each. Thus causing the need for one inter-league series every week. The new playoff system has the two wild card teams facing off in a one game playoff  to see which wild card team moves on to the division series.

The scheduling problem is because this season’s postseason schedule is already set, and its difficult to squeeze days in between the beginning of the division series and the start of the World Series. The goal is to try and keep the season from extending into November. Last season the regular season ended on a Wednesday. Normally it’s always ended on a Sunday. It ends on a Wednesday again this year, but next year they will go back to the traditional final day moving back to a Sunday.

The playoff system will undergo some minor changes. For the first time, tiebreakers will be settled on the field instead of by head-to-head records. If two teams are tied for a division title, but both are in the playoffs regardless, in the past the head-to-head records would determine who was division champs and who was the wild card. This time I guess Baseball feels that a division title is too important to not settle on the field. I agree. From now on starting this year, if two teams tie for a division regardless if both teams are in, there will be a one-game playoff to decide the division title. Also changing this year is the rule that the Wild Card team can only play teams outside their division in the division series. Starting this year, the wild card team that advances will play the team with the best record regardless if they’re from the same division.

It is possible that the extra wild card might not get put into place until 2013. The regular season ends on October 3 this year, and the first game of the World Series is scheduled to start on October 24. Selig will need to find a way to fit in an extra game on the calendar between those dates. One day will need to be added for the wild card playoff game and another day before that for any tiebreaker games. It might be better for Selig to wait until 2013 to implement this where the schedule works better.

Here are the upcoming minor changes to the playoff system.

1. Tiebreaker games will now be played to determine all division or playoff ties.

2. Wild Card team that advances to division series plays number one team no matter which division they are from.

3. Regular season will end on a Sunday in 2013.

Most Baseball people are worried that the second wild card may allow a bad team to make the playoffs or a third place team to win the world series. While it is possible for a third place team to make it in, take a look at this stat below if you still think that fifth place team will be a bad team. Here is a list of the records of the fifth place teams in each league over the last 12 years.

2000-AL-Cleveland 90-72



            NL-San Francisco-90-72






            NL-San Francisco-91-71






           NL-San Diego-89-74




            NL-San Francisco-88-74


           NL-San Diego-90-72



As you can see from the numbers above, since 2000 the fifth place team has won at least 85 games every year and at least 90 wins most years. Only two of those teams finished with records with less than 87 wins. MLB will decide by March 1st whether the extra wild card will be implemented for this season, or they will wait until 2013.

While I am a traditionalist and think the extra wild card and one game playoff is rather gimmicky, I will admit it does add some excitement to the end of the season. Since normally that fifth place team is generally a good team. I don’t have a problem with it, especially since it allows for the season to end without being extended into November. It also adds extra incentive to win your division. It might take some getting used to, but so did the wild card and three division setup when it was first introduced. I say why not? We will get used to it. After all like Stacie said, the extra wild card could give the Dodgers an extra chance at making the playoffs, and if they do, I’m sure we will all be loving that second wild card, am I right Dodger fans?