Major league baseball is considering expansion of the playoff format which could be implemented as soon as 2012. One of the more popularly discussed formats would see the addition of another wild card team in each league. The additional team would then face off against the other wild card winner in a short playoff, most likely a best of three series. The winner of this series would then go on to face one of the division winners in a playoff format similar to the one currently constructed.
So the question is, will this new expanded playoff format give the Toronto Blue Jays a much better shot at the playoffs? Or is it just a way to guarantee that both the Yankees and Red Sox are in the playoffs every year? Well, I’m going to suggest that it is the latter.
If we look back since the year 2000 and implemented this new playoff structure, the following additional teams would have made the playoffs with this extra spot in the American League:
2010 - Boston
2009 - Texas
2008 - NY Yankees
2007 - Detroit/Seattle
2006 - Chicago WS
2005 - Cleveland
2004 - Oakland
2003 - Seattle
2002 - Boston
2001 - Minnesota
2000 – Cleveland
Only in 2001 and 2006 would have both the Yankees and Red Sox not made the playoffs, as Boston would have fallen a few wins short in both of these years. The Yankees would have made the playoffs every year, and if fact you would have to go back to 1992 under this format for the last time the Yankees wouldn’t have made the playoffs; a year in which Danny Tartabull was the Yankees highest paid player at $5.3 million, and also a year in which a certain team north of the border was pretty good.
So what is preventing the Jays and Orioles from making the playoffs under this expanded format? Well, my belief is that it is due to the lack of a balanced schedule. NY and Boston will continue to outspend everyone else in baseball and regularly finish first or second in the AL East. The Blue Jays and Orioles will both have to play these two teams 38 times reducing their overall win total. This factor really makes a big difference in the overall standings, for example, let’s compare the Twins who are considered the shining example of how to build an organization against the Toronto Blue Jays over the last three years:
Blue Jays and Twins Win Loss Records since 2008
Record vs. AL East
If the Twins were in the AL East, do you think they would have fared any better than the Blue Jays? Over this three year period the Twins have made the playoffs twice and just missed once and the Blue Jays haven’t even played a meaningful regular season game despite arguably having the better team.
Therefore since the AL Central and West are weaker divisions, the records of the better teams within these divisions will be inflated resulting in one of the non division winners most likely having a better record than both the Blue Jays and Orioles. Therefore if you count the number of teams that will make the playoffs in an expanded format, this leaves you with the following teams going to the post season every year:
1. AL East division winner
2. AL Central division winner
3. AL West division winner
4. One of the Boston Red Sox/NY Yankees (whichever is not the AL East winner)
5. The team with the best record among the remaining group from the AL Central and AL West that does not win their division
Missing from this list is the Toronto Blue Jays and it will remain this way until either they spend on par will the Boston Red Sox or there is an implementation of a balanced schedule. What about what the Tampa Bay Devil Rays have done recently you say? Well, I guess the Jays could catch lightning in a bottle and have everything go right at the right time, but is that what I really want to hope for?