Baseball adds second wild card for 2012

  • Article by: JOE CHRISTENSEN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: March 3, 2012 - 12:50 AM

The two wild cards will play a one-game playoff, both increasing the playoff field and adding incentive for teams to win a division crown.

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Ron Gardenhire argued with umpire Hunter Wendelstedt during Game 2 of the 2010 American League Divisional Series against the wild-card Yankees. Under baseball's new playoff system, the Twins might have missed the Yankees altogether, had they lost a one-game playoff to a second wild-card team.

Photo: Brian Peterson, Star Tribune

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FORT MYERS, FLA. — Major League Baseball expanded its playoff format Friday for the first time since 1995, and Twins manager Ron Gardenhire had some reservations.

Beginning this October, the playoff field will expand from eight to 10 teams. Baseball will still have six division winners, but now each league will have two wild-card teams that will meet in a one-game showdown for the right to advance to the Division Series.

"That could [be decided] in the first inning," Gardenhire said. "You give up seven runs, there goes 162 ballgames out the window because of one bad inning."

The Twins experienced the thrills and chills of a one-game showdown twice in the past four years. In 2008, the Twins lost a tiebreaker to the White Sox 1-0, and in 2009, the Twins won a 6-5, 12-inning tiebreaker over the Tigers.

"That's real exciting for one day, and then somebody goes home and you're still ticked off," Gardenhire said. "I say you play a three-game series to see who's a real good team with three pitchers and not one."

But Twins General Manager Terry Ryan likes the new format. "It is tough when you lose that one playoff game," he said. "At least you're in. Just think if they didn't have the additional two teams, how would you feel?"

Ryan has been part of Commissioner Bud Selig's competition committee, a group of 14 GMs, managers and team presidents that has studied expanded playoffs, instant replay, etc.

"Ten teams out of 30 [making the playoffs] seems to be the right ratio, and it rewards the people who won a division title, which is probably the most important piece to it," Ryan said.

The extra wild card has been long discussed, but there was uncertainty as to whether it would be implemented this year or next.

Under the old format, a team that clinched a wild card had less incentive to continue fighting for a division title because there wasn't much difference. Now, there's a big difference.

The wild-card teams will put their seasons on the line for one game, possibly exhausting their top pitchers, which would put them at a disadvantage in the best-of-five Division Series.

"It keeps teams playing hard instead of resting guys for the playoffs," Twins outfielder Denard Span said. "I think in the long run, that's going to probably help a lot of teams out. You go into the playoffs with everybody firing on all cylinders."

Ryan said the biggest challenges are schedule-related. MLB doesn't want the postseason stretching too far into November, and this year's regular season doesn't end until Oct. 3.

So MLB has added a one-year wrinkle. The Division Series will open with the lower-seeded teams -- including the two wild-card winners -- getting two home games, followed by up to three games at the site of the higher-seeded team. This eliminates a potential travel day before a decisive Game 5.

In 2013, the Division Series will return to the 2-2-1 format used in past years.

The Twins have made the playoffs six times in the past 10 years, all as division champs. They would have been the AL's second wild-card team in 2001, when they finished 85-77. They would have been pitted against the 102-win Athletics in a winner-take-all event.

"We have been in those one-game playoffs [in 2008 and '09]," Ryan said. "Believe me, once you get there, it is not as bothersome as it looks on paper, especially when you win."

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