According to Ken Rosenthal on Twitter, Major League Baseball and the Player’s Association have come to some sort of agreement that will allow for the possibility of expanded playoffs beginning this season, and an announcement to that effect will come tomorrow.
At the beginning of the month, Jayson Stark highlighted some of the issues with expanding the playoffs for 2012 after the schedules had already been set. Because the dates for the end of the regular season (October 3rd) and the beginning of the World Series (October 24th) are set in stone and cannot be moved, the league had to figure out how to get the play-in games (and any potential tie-breakers) into a three week window that already needed to house the Division and League Championship series. As Stark noted, the most likely way to handle this issue was to eliminate a day off during the Division Series, so the five game sets would be played out over six days.
I’m all in favor of contracted schedules for playoff series that do more to emulate the pace of the regular season. Teams have been able to manipulate the off days in the postseason schedule to lean heavily on just a few pitchers, and a more compact schedule should make depth more valuable in the postseason. I’d consider that a good thing.
However, the regular season schedule is created with travel in mind. When a team has a cross country flight, they often have a travel day to assist them in getting to their destination, or will play a “getaway” afternoon game that gets them in the air with enough time to still get some sleep in their new city that evening. Since MLB cannot control the geographical distance between Division Series opponents, it is quite possible that we could have a first round match-up between teams 2,000+ miles apart – say, for instance, the Angels and the Red Sox. That would be problematic if the schedule for the Division Series called for games on October 6th, 7th, 9th, 10th, and 11th.
You’d get two games in Boston, then a travel day to get both teams back to Anaheim before game three. But, then, you’re forced with three games in three days on two coasts, and in order to accommodate the travel needs, Game Four would almost certainly have to be a day game. And, even with that concession, you’re still forcing the teams to play a winner-take-all playoff game on the east coast the day after playing in a game that could very well last four hours on the west coast.
It’s just a one year problem, as next year they can set the schedule to incorporate a second wild card, but it will be interesting to see exactly how MLB and the Player’s Association managed to squeeze the extra wild card into a tight schedule.
For a look at how the second wild card might affect the playoff races, I recommend Dave Allen’s story from last July on the issue.