For those who wonder why both the Nats and Orioles finally became more aggressive last offseason, we may have another piece of the puzzle. At the ’10 World Series, Selig said that 10-team playoffs were a front-burner issue on his watch. Many got the hint. This is now Bud’s baby and it’s due soon. Suddenly, the Nats threw $126 million at Jayson Werth and tried to get Zack Greinke to take $100 million. The Orioles reworked their payroll twice to accommodate a $20 million increase for ’11.
Would the risk-reward equation in their business model change with a 10-team playoff?
Baseball’s main debate will be whether the two wild cards meet in a one-game instant-knockout playoff or else play a best-of-three series to find out who earns the right to advance against the six legitimate division champions.
Some will scream that a one-game or three-game playoff is comically inappropriate — and a grab for TV money — in a sport that plays 162 games to decide who makes the playoffs. Sounds reasonable. But that misunderstands the baseball culture: What infuriates lifers is playing six months to finish in first place, then run the risk of a KO in a fluky five-game series by a wild card. That problem will still exist under any new format.
However, few in baseball care much if two wild cards are put in an “unfair” position. Division winners have rights. Wild cards are poor relatives who are lucky to be at the big party at all. If they suffer short-series indignities, that’s just tough luck. If they don’t like the setup, they have six months to do something about it: finish in first place.
We’ll fuss as this unfolds. Will baseball have ridiculous wild-card “tiebreaker” rules like the NFL? Would a three-game wild-card playoff penalize the six division champs who have to sit idle? Can both wild cards come from the same division where an 85-win team might kill a 95-win rival in a mini-series? Will the Series end on Thanksgiving?
One thing’s certain. With the NBA and NHL playoffs at 16 of 30 teams, and the NFL at 12 out of 32 teams, there’s no way baseball isn’t going to 10-out-of-30 — by next year. Get prepared for the future. It looks like the Nats and O’s already tried to get a head start.