Time to add teams to playoffs?

1 plan would pit wild-card teams in 1-game showdown

September 26, 2010|By Phil Rogers

Outside of Game 7 of the World Series or league championship series, there's no more dramatic situation in baseball than a Game 163, when teams tied at the end of the regular season play a win-or-go-home game to see who survives.

These used to be rare, but the current playoff format has produced them three years in a row, and all three games — Rockies over Padres; White Sox over Twins and Twins over Tigers — were little classics. There's a decent chance for another of them — and maybe even the goofiest scenario of all (more on that later) — as the Braves, Giants and Padres entered the weekend separated by a half-game with the Rockies not yet dead.

Yet isn't more better?

There's a motion for change in the playoff format that would guarantee two one-game playoffs every season.

This is the 10-team playoff format ESPN's Jayson Stark promotes that would result from adding two more wild-card teams, one from each league. True, it would be horribly unfair to a strong wild-card team like this year's American League East runner-up, but would it generate enough excitement to justify it?

Commissioner Bud Selig said Friday "it's time to revisit" the question of adding playoff teams, indicating the topic will receive serious consideration this winter.

"We have fewer teams (in the playoffs) than the other sports," Selig said. "We certainly haven't abused anything."

In the 10-team format, the two wild-card teams from each league would play each other in a one-game playoff the day after the end of the regular season. The winner would advance to the division series while the loser, possibly a team that won 95-plus games, would go home to try again next year.

There are three presumed advantages to the format:

•More teams remain alive longer, sustaining their fan base's interest deeper into September.

•It's a new product that could be provided to a television partner or given to the MLB Network.

•It would restore the value of winning a division, as the current format gives only a slight advantage to a division champ over a wild card.

Consider how it could have changed the climate this season.

The Red Sox would be positioned comfortably to represent the AL as the second wild card, having gained a lead over the White Sox during the 2-12 slide that took Ozzie Guillen's team out of the Central race. The NL situation might be less dramatic, as there would be room for the Braves, Giants and Padres all to reach the playoffs.

And in the biggest difference, the recent series between the Yankees and Rays would have been contested much harder, with managers using their rosters as they will in October, as they would be desperate to avoid a playoff against the Red Sox, who would have little to lose.

That's the fairness issue. Should a team as good as the Yankees and Rays face the prospect of being eliminated in a one-game playoff?

Probably not.

MLB's current system provides provisions for a freak situation that could come into play this year, giving us a two-day baseball-fest. If the Braves, Padres and Giants finish with identical records, the Padres would play the Giants in a one-game playoff for the NL West. The loser would hop on a plane and travel to Atlanta to play for the wild card.

Closing window: Joe Maddon and the Rays probably feel a bigger sense of urgency than any team these days. While they were battling the Yankees, their principal owner, Stuart Sternberg, was making it clear he still planned to cut payroll — possibly significantly — from this year's $72 million.

While the Rays have a great young rotation, will they be able to win in 2011 and beyond without the likes of Carl Crawford, Carlos Pena and Rafael Soriano, all of whom could leave as free agents?

Sternberg points to the attendance issue at Tropicana Field as leaving ownership little choice but to do some downsizing.

Sternberg says the Rays won't "come close" to a profit this year and he's "not optimistic'' that the success of the team will cause season-ticket sales to increase significantly for 2011.

Ready to go: The Phillies are peaking at the right time.

When they knocked the Braves' Mike Minor out of Tuesday's game in the third inning, it was the seventh in a row that an opposing starter had lasted fewer than five innings against them (the streak ended Wednesday when Tommy Hanson went six). That tied a record the Giants set in 1949 and the Phillies tied in 2006.

The Phillies were only two games above .500 on July 21 but entered the weekend having gone 44-15 since them.

"This is the kind of ball we've been accustomed to playing (down the stretch) the last few years," right fielder Jayson Werth said. "That's how we're supposed to play. We have a bunch of guys who rise to the occasion."

The last word: "He almost wills base hits. I really think he walks up there, looks where the defense is playing and chooses to hit it somewhere else. I think he's that good, I really do." — Rays manager Joe Maddon on Ichiro Suzuki, who extended his record by becoming the first big-leaguer with 10 straight 200-hit seasons.

progers@tribune.com

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