If you’re in the playoffs, then you’ve got a shot. This is the motto for a lot of teams and their fans heading into the MLB postseason. Just ask the St. Louis Cardinals from last year, who made a miraculous run just to sneak into the NL Wild Card spot and rode that hot streak all the way to the franchise’s 11th World Series Championship. Just get in, and anything is possible.
That expression couldn’t possibly hold any more water than it does for the 2012 Postseason. With changes to the postseason format and the parity of all the playoff-contending teams, the 2012 Postseason could shape up to be one of the most unpredictable Major League Baseball has ever seen.
First of all, a second wild card team has been added to both leagues. The two wild card teams in each league will have a one-game playoff to decide who gets to play the No. 1 seed in each league. The inclusion of more quality baseball teams can only make the prospect of selecting a favorite to win it all even more difficult. This rule also further increases the possibility of another hot team, like last year’s Cardinals, getting into the playoffs and running the table.
There is another formatting change to this year’s postseason that complicates matters and should also make fans of the No. 1 and 2 seeds in both leagues confused and frustrated. Instead of the normal 2-2-1 format of the Division Series, this year both the ALDS and the NLDS will have a 2-3 format.
Because of scheduling conflicts that have to do with the wild card play-in game, both of the higher-seeded teams will have to play on the road in the first two games of the Divisional Series. The final three games of the series—the fourth and fifth only if necessary—will be played at the higher-seeded team’s ballpark.
Many of you are probably saying, “That does not seem like much of a home-field advantage.” You bet it’s not. If you think about it, the setup really favors the lower-seeded team. The lower-seeded team gets to open up the series in front of its energized fans, which will be even more raucous if it was a wild card team that won the play-in game the day before.
If that team holds serve and wins the first two games at home, then all it has to do is win one out of the three games on the road. To anybody, it should seem like the lower-seeded team has the advantage. The higher-seeded team not having a home-field advantage gives the underdogs more of a shot and makes this postseason all the more unpredictable.
A final factor that makes this year’s playoffs seem more like a free-for-all is the fact that there are no clear-cut favorites.
While the AL’s postseason teams include the two that have represented the league in the World Series the past three years, the Yankees and the Rangers, these teams have surrendered double-digit game leads in their respective divisions.
By the time you are reading this Thursday, you will know what happened between the Yankees and the Orioles—there might even be a 163rd game to decide who wins the AL East, making this postseason even more wild. But the fact that a perennial powerhouse like New York has to fight tooth and nail to hold off an upstart Orioles squad gives you a clue to how surprising this postseason could be. Heck, even the low-budget Oakland Athletics were able to dethrone the two-time defending American League Champion Texas Rangers to win the AL West after being down 13 games in July. Teams like the Orioles and the Athletics making the playoffs already makes this postseason one of the most unpredictable the MLB has ever seen.
The National League is no different. While each division race in the NL has been decided, the division winners should be concerned about playing either NL Wild Card team. The first wild card team, the Atlanta Braves, is playing its best baseball of the year right now. With the emergence of Kris Medlen as an ace starter, the Braves might have the best pitching staff in baseball. The second NL Wild Card team just happens to be the defending champion St. Louis Cardinals, who no one should be underestimating at this point.
Even though this year’s postseason is going to be a mass free-for-all, it is something that is good for baseball. This year there are more fan bases included in the playoffs, and each of them can legitimately say it has a chance at a World Series title. This postseason will also see postseason baseball back on the Beltway—more specifically, Washington, D.C. It seems only fitting to have postseason baseball being played in our nation’s capital.
Bringing a passion for postseason baseball to more cities around America, including D.C., is ultimately something that is good for Major League Baseball and its fans. While all this unpredictability will make being a fan of one of these teams all the more stressful, it will definitely make watching the postseason all the more enjoyable for the rest of us.
How do you think this year’s MLB postseason will play out? Do you think the top seeds will fare in the Divisional Series? Email Ted at firstname.lastname@example.org to let him know what you think.