|Wild card winner may have edge||| Print |||Send|
Written by Jim Mancari (Contact & Archive) on September 29, 2012
As per MLB’s new playoff structure, the two wild card teams will play one game to determine who plays the No. 1 seed in the division series. Many fans are familiar with this new format, but there’s one interesting factor that fans may not know about.
Whoever wins the one-game play-in will be the host team for the first two games of the division series. So even though the wild card team will be taking on the No. 1 seed, that team will get to play the first two games at home.
Photo by Keith Allison, used under creative commons license.
Since the new playoff structure was agreed upon after the 2012 schedule was made, this playoff structure is the only way to avoid a travel day before a potential Game 5. The travel day will instead come before Game 3.
So let’s look at this system from the perspective of a wild card team. Yes, it’s tough that the wild card play-in is just one game, but whoever wins that game may have the inside track for advancing at least to the league championship series.
Of course, pitching matchups will come into play, but if the wild card team can win both of its home games against a No. 1 seed, it would then have to win just one of three away games to advance.
This may come into play in the AL, where travel may be a huge factor. If the Yankees overtake the Rangers for the No. 1 seed in the league, they would be forced to travel to the wild card game winner. As of now, the Orioles and A’s would square off to see who advances.
If the A’s win, that means the Yankees would have to travel across the country for the first two games of the series. It’s not like the Yankees are a bad road team (.538 winning percentage), but starting a series on the road against a team coming off earning a playoff berth might be difficult.
Playoff baseball is all about momentum. Look at the Cardinals from last year. In early September, the likelihood that the team would even make the playoffs was slim, but the team got hot at the right time, and it carried all the way through to hoisting the World Series trophy.
Given this new extra game scenario, the wild card winner may have the necessary momentum to dispose of the No. 1 seed -- especially if it wins both home games -- and then a make a run at the pennant.
Next season, it already appears that the division series playoff structure will go back to the traditional 2-2-1 format, in which the higher seed hosts the first two games and then a deciding Game 5, if necessary.
But at least for this season, the wild card team may have a distinct advantage.