In March of this year, the MLB and its Players’ Association ratified a new playoff format, expanding on the previous postseason format to add an extra wild card in both the American and National leagues. The MLB has been mulling over the playoff expansion for the past two years, and this season’s implementation will tell how those two years of study pay off.
According Bloomberg.com, Commissioner Bud Selig explained that the change “increases the rewards of a division championship and allows two additional markets to experience playoff baseball each year, all while maintaining the most exclusive postseason in professional sports.” Odds are, MLB players are hoping the extra playoff berths will increase their chances of playing in one of the coveted postseason spots, and team owners are likely hoping that these changes will increase attendance in the latter part of the season.
Some criticism of the new playoff model has risen in recent weeks, despite the league’s optimism. Some critics have referred to the idea of an added wild card as a money grab and others believe that it may punish teams who consistently perform well while rewarding mediocre teams with spotty seasons.
It may be too soon to tell the overall effect of the added wild card with this being the first playoffs in the new format, but regardless, many teams amped up their on-field performance in the hopes of making it to the postseason. In August, the Associated Press reported that the extra wild card slot had increased attendance across the league, citing a four percent increase in attendance from 2011.
While the Associated Press attributes this increase directly to the reformatted playoff model, others in the industry aren’t so sure. According to Tom Van Riper of Forbes, the additional wild card team added in each league “hasn’t been much of a factor.” Attendance data compiled by ESPN shows that the MLB is on track to draw just under 76 million fans for this season, about 1.2 million more than in the 2011 season. According to Van Riper, “improved teams are drawing more, sinking teams less…and the wider playoff field brought on by the two extra wild card qualifiers this year has little to do with any of it.”
While the first part of that statement may be true, the extra wild card slots are undoubtedly rejuvenating some teams that would have otherwise seen their postseason chances dwindling. These playoff-hopefuls can potentially draw bigger crowds, increasing attendance in the latter part of the season.
As for the inagural wild card matchups, the National League wild card game has been determined and this Friday, October 5 the St. Louis Cardinals will meet the Atlanta Braves for the chance to move on to the divisional series against the Washington Nationals.
The American League is coming down to the wire with the wild card matchup being decided on the outcome of tonight’s games. The winner of tonight’s matchup between the Oakland A’s and Texas Rangers will head to the divisonal series while the loser take its place in the wild card. As for the other contender in the wild card that spot belongs to either the New York Yankees or Baltimore Orioles.
The Yankees take on the Boston Red Sox tonight, while the Orioles will face off against the Tampa Bay Rays. The Yankees will earn a spot in the ALDS with a win tonight or an Orioles loss. However, if the Yankees were to lose and Orioles win, the two would meet on Thursday in a tie-breaker to determine who takes the ALDS position and who’s heading to the wild card slot.