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In days of old, Major League Baseball's playoffs involved two teams playing in the World Series. To reach it, you had to win either the American League pennant or the National League pennant.
But over the years, MLB's playoffs, like the playoffs of the other leagues, have expanded, and this season they will expand again. Besides the six division winners, those playoffs will include not just one, but two wild card teams from each league. After a one-game playoff in each league, the two winning wild card teams will advance to the postseason's next round. Jeff Luhnow, general manager of the Houston Astros, approves of the change.
"From our standpoint, we're looking forward to being competitive and being able to challenge for a playoff spot," Luhnow said at the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference in Boston in March. "I think the only drawback is that the first round for those last two teams becomes all-or-nothing in a very short series, and I think that's going to be a challenge for the team that gets bounced in that first round. But I think anything that keeps more markets involved, I think, is going to be good."
Jeff Luhnow is not alone in that conclusion.
"You know, I'm ultimately supportive of it," said Mark Shapiro, President of the Cleveland Indians. "I think that, A, at the level of engaging another market for a longer period of time is a positive. In addition to that, I think it rewards the division winners in a way they haven't been rewarded in the past."
Mark Shapiro's conclusion is based on the fact that none of the division winners would face a short playoff series against a team that had failed to win its division, and according to Rob Neyer, the national baseball editor for the website SB Nation, the new format would have yet another benefit:
"I think the one-game playoffs are going to be really fantastically exciting baseball," Neyer said. "We've had one-game playoffs going back to the 1940s – a one-game playoff for the pennant in those days – and for the most part, all of the playoffs, whether it was a one game series or for a while in the National League a best of three series, have been incredibly exciting. We're going to have those every year now, something like those."
This is not to suggest that there are no arguments against the new system. There are. Some fans have objected because the fifth best team in one league or the other could end up winning the World Series, which, they suggest, further devalues the regular season in the interests of generating more money for the owners. Others have worried that more late fall games means more potential postponements and perhaps the distraction of baseball while they're trying to get ready for Thanksgiving.
The 2012 season has already gone into the record books for providing the longest-ever game on Opening Day, in which it took the Blue Jays 16 innings to beat the Indians. This fall, we'll see how the most crowded post-season in baseball's long history works out.
This segment aired on April 7, 2012.
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