Commissioner Bud Selig expects expanded playoffs to begin in 2012. (AP) Those of us hoping for at least one more year of the current playoff structure — and preferably decades more — seem unlikely to get our wish based on comments commissioner Bud Selig made to the assembled media at SoxFest Friday night in Chicago.
"I really believe we'll have the (extra) wild card for this year," Selig said Friday at SoxFest. "Clubs really want it. I don't think I've ever seen an issue that the clubs want more than to have the extra wild card."
"We're working on dates right now," Selig said. "It looks to me like we'll have it, because I've told everybody we have to have it. It will be exciting. A one-game playoff and it will start the playoffs off in a very exciting manner."
In case you haven't heard all of the details, the expanded playoffs will give us five playoff teams in each league — three division winners and two wild cards. The two wild cards will then face-off in a one-game elimination, followed by the usual playoff format. There will also be one-game playoffs to break divisional ties.
The new structure is easy to understand, so it has that going for it. I don't think there's any question the one-game wild card playoff will give us memorable games and moments as Bud suggests. That's also a plus. Unfortunately, as we've documented here on Big League Stew in the past, many times that will come at the expense of truly exciting September pennant races, and it will always make sure the regular season is good and watered down.
I don't like the thought of that. In fact, I hate it. Passionately.
In my view, the timing of this significant change will never be right. However, when I look at how this offseason has played out, and how the divisions and leagues stack up, I believe the timing could not be worse than right now. We're going to immediately witness the negative impact it will have should the expansion begin in 2012, because no less than three potentially fantastic divisional races that blossomed over the winter, are now bound to lose steam in an expanded playoffs system.
The American League Central is not one of those divisions. The Detroit Tigers are going to run away and hide there barring something unforeseen. But what about those races in the West and East? What about the move and counter move between the Los Angeles Angels and Texas Rangers? What about the usual jousting between the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees?
Will any of that matter?
It will to a degree. Winning the division and securing your spot in series play will be important. But it won't mean nearly as much as it should, because the second place finisher won't be going home. What looked like a great battle with four strong teams — maybe five if the Tampa Bay Rays hang around — playing 162 games for three playoffs spots, will instead be playing for four spots. Again, the one-game playoffs will be interesting, but how much less interesting will September ultimately be?
Same thing in the National League. The West appears to be wide open for about the sixth season in a row. That should provide a little bit of drama, but I was really looking forward to the retooled and going all out Cincinnati Reds attempting to dethrone the defending World Champion St. Louis Cardinals in the Central. Those games certainly won't lose their intensity, but they definitely lose urgency because the odds strongly favor both teams getting in.
The whole thing just feels wrong. Like we're about to be robbed of our last chance to witness meaningful, wire-to-wire divisional races.
Maybe things will shake out differently heading into 2013. Maybe I'll have a more positive outlook on the expansion then. Right now, though, I just ask for one more normal season. That way I'll know we didn't miss out on one final classic September.