Shortly before ending his lengthy tenure as Commissioner of Major League Baseball, Bud Selig made a controversial change to the foundational setup of the game's playoff format. The 2012 season became the first in which a second wild-card team was added for both leagues, pushing the number of postseason entrants from eight to 10.
It was no surprise that there was widespread backlash to this major reconfiguration. More than most, baseball is a sport that is resistant to change. The difficulty of achieving a postseason berth the end of a 162-game marathon was one of MLB's differentiators, with the NFL sending 12 teams to the playoffs and the NBA letting in more than half of its squads.
Traditionalists had a hard enough time accepting the idea of a single wild-card team when Selig oversaw its implementation back in 1995. Now another one was being added, with the wrinkle that the two wild-card winners would face off in a single game that decided which club would move on? It sort of flew in the face of the league's underlying mechanics.
"This change increases the rewards of a division championship and allows two additional markets to experience playoff baseball each year," Selig stated when he initially announced the creation of the Wild Card Round.
Whether you like the change or not, you can't deny that both those things are true, and as fans in Minnesota are now learning, the benefits of this new format stretch even further. Because while the Twins may or may not overcome the Astros (or Rangers) and earn a chance to participate in the wild-card play-in, we're still getting to experience the excitement of contention in September, adding a level of drama that previously would have been amiss.
If not for this new setup, the Twins – who obviously have no shot at winning the division – would currently be trailing the Yankees by four games for the American League's lone wild-card opening, with the Astros also standing in front of them and with 18 games remaining and no head-to-head match-ups against either. That's not an impossible hill to climb but it's an awfully steep one.
Instead, Minnesota is within a game and a half of Houston, and at this juncture in mid-September every game carries huge significance. That's a level of late-season drama that we haven't had around here in a long time. On Tuesday night, I found myself flipping the channel frequently from Fox Sports North to ESPN, where the Rangers/Astros game was being nationally televised.
Scoreboard watching! Hypothesizing about playoff rotations! The highs and lows attached to individual victories and losses that can dramatically alter the playoff picture! We've missed these exercises and emotions over the last four years – at least I know I have. So I'm awfully glad that the new format enables us to have them now.
Then again, I've never had a problem with the added wild-card teams, nor with interleague play, nor the All Star Game dictating home field for the World Series, nor instant replay, nor any of the innovations that took place under Selig. I'll always harbor some resentment for the man over that whole contraction fiasco, but in general I believe that he did a lot of good for the game, and now I'm getting to appreciate one of the final touches of his legacy first-hand, along with my fellow Twins fans.
I'm curious to hear the viewpoints of some readers on this topic. Do you like the new playoff structure? Has your opinion shifted now that you're experiencing its perks? What alterations would you make to the setup, if any?