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Pressing the Reset Button on the Playoff Format

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I'm tryin' to help ya out, Jose!
I'm tryin' to help ya out, Jose!

Welcome to 2012. Unless you were in a coma, you've probably noticed that we're already in it. If you were in a coma, I'm glad you're back! No, I'm not sure how Flo Rida managed to get back into the Billboard's Top Ten either. We're here to discuss baseball though, we can discuss these ditties another time. One of baseball's newest developments is that there are now 10 playoff teams--champions for each of the six divisions in baseball and two Wild Card slots per league. This change was somewhat rushed into use prior to the season, so not everything is neat and organized yet (hence the fact that the Division Series is only favored toward the team with the better record if the series goes five games). It still bothers me that the potential still exists for better teams to be excluded from the playoffs simply because of the silly divisions.

"But how can this possibly happen when the two Wild Cards should fix this problem?" Oh, trust me. It can. Just look at the standings from mid-August 1994, when the baseball strike hit. Yes, you read the standings correctly. The Rangers were leading the AL West despite being 10 games under .500. Yeesh. The only teams in the entire league that they were doing better were the three other pitiful teams in their division.

There's an easy solution to this problem that will also fix other problems in the game, although it might be considered radical in some baseball circles-- eliminate the divisions. Bring the American League and National League back to 1968, when all of the clubs were ranked together by league. Obviously, the entire playoffs would never be eliminated, so then take the top four teams in each league and have them duke it out (#1 vs. #4, #2 vs. #3) for spots in the World Series. This alignment ensures that the true top teams by pure record in each league make the playoffs. There will be no questions of Wild Card or Division champions.

What does Major League Baseball stand to gain from eliminating the divisions? Besides the obvious fact that the unquestioned best teams will make the playoffs, the schedules could finally achieve balance, something many fans (especially IGYAR) have desired for quite awhile. Their current positions in the AL East standings notwithstanding, it is ridiculous that teams like the Blue Jays and the Orioles must play approximately 54 games against the three-headed Yankees/Red Sox/Rays hydra. The Jays are a fine young team that might have actually made the playoffs sometime in the past ten years or so if not for the excessive divisional play. Though they have not played in the postseason since 1993, they do not properly compare with a team like the Pirates, who have not made it to the postseason since 1992 because they also have not finished over .500 since then (in a much weaker division).

Toronto has finished above .500 several times since their back-to-back title years of '92 and '93, but in the hyper-competitive AL East, they have had little chance of a postseason berth. Hell, even the Orioles have made the playoffs more recently than the Jays (they won the AL East in '97), and like the Pirates, they have not finished over .500 since then. The extra Wild Card might give a team like Toronto a shot at the playoffs, but there it would be much better if the AL simply took the four best teams. Toronto's going to have a much more difficult time making the playoffs given the fact that the Yankees, Red Sox, and Rays always seem to be above them in the standings. The same argument could be made of the Orioles, who really seem to be on the rise and have shown a commitment toward a better future with the hiring of Buck Showalter in late 2010 and the recent six-year, $85.5 million extension for Adam Jones. They wouldn't be giving him that money if they didn't think there was a chance for them to make a run at the playoffs sometime soon.

So what if the top four teams end up from the former AL East? The divisions will be gone. It won't matter. The balanced schedule would reduce both the Blue Jays and Orioles' total number of games against the three big teams in the AL East, while increasing the number for teams outside the division. Instead of getting to beat up on Kansas City and Seattles, the Tigers and Rangers would have to play more competitive teams more often.

Do it, Major League Baseball. It's only right. You will still make plenty of money, don't worry your silly little head.