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Boston Red Sox fans need no more painful reminders of how close they were to sneaking into the playoffs last season. One more strike on Robert Andino, six more inches on the left field wall at Tropicana Field, three more minutes on the clock. My left arm tingles just thinking about it.
Well, sorry Red Sox fans, because that knife in your back is about to get twisted one last time.
According to various reports, including Foxsports.com and ESPN’s Karl Ravech on Baseball Tonight, Major League Baseball will expand the playoffs this season to include two additional wildcard teams. The new collective bargaining agreement reached in the offseason had stipulated that the extra wildcard team be added no later than the 2013 season, but major league officials decided to move forward with the new playoff system for this year.
While the deal is not yet finalized, only a few more details need to be worked out before it will be announced. This includes squeezing the additional wildcard showdown into the schedule, which had already been determined according to the regular eight team playoff scenario. Changes to the schedule on the final day of the season may be in order.
Of course, if last year’s postseason had followed the new ten-team format instead of just the usual eight, the Red Sox would have made the playoffs. They would have played the Tampa Bay Rays in a one-game playoff to determine who would move on to face the division winner with the best record.
Even more importantly, Red Sox fans might not have to put up with Bobby Valentine’s ridiculous shenanigans. (Cut to Terry Francona shaking his shiny bald head on the set of Baseball Tonight.)
Ultimately, this was a good move by the MLB to expand the playoffs, giving greater meaning to regular season performance. With the new format, the extra wildcard game means one more need to burn your best pitcher and the chance be eliminated from the playoffs in one fell swoop. Wildcard teams no longer start the playoffs on equal footing with division winners, who receive a bye while the two wildcard teams square off. Since division titles take on greater significance and better regular season records are rewarded, teams might not be happy to settle for a wildcard berth. More teams will play hard through the end of the season, jockeying for their division or even for the #4 seed and the right to host the wildcard game.
Some fans may protest that this eliminates what was dubbed the greatest night in baseball history on the final night of last season. Since both the Red Sox and Rays, as well as the Atlanta Braves and St. Louis Cardinals in the National League, would have been guaranteed of that one-game playoff, the drama wouldn’t have played out that night.
I disrespectfully disagree with everything in that previous paragraph, particularly the notion that the respective 162nd games of the 2011 regular season amounted to anything “great” – holler back, Braves fans! (Let’s all pretend I never wrote those last four words.) More importantly, though, is it really worse to have to watch what essentially amounts to a one game play-in? Last year, wasn’t everyone (by which I mean every objective baseball fan) rooting for a Rays-Red Sox, Braves-Cardinals mano-a-mano doubleheader? How is a one game for all the marbles not more dramatic, especially when each team has to decide whether to throw their best pitcher on the mound or save them for Game 1 of the next round? Besides, how long will we have to wait for another night like that? If you ask me, I’ll take the certainty of a one-game wildcard round over the longshot of another team coming back from a nine-game deficit during September within the next twenty years.
They’ll be a minority, but there’s the slight possibility still some other fans may protest over the apparent bastardization of tradition with the addition of another wildcard team. It will ruin the integrity of the game!!! Yeah, right. If fans made it through the first wildcard, teams changing leagues (soon to happen again), interleague play, PEDs, and the approval of the McCourt and Wilpon ownership families, a second wildcard team should be an easy pill to swallow.
Easier than the Red Sox missing the playoffs again, anyway.