Radical Baseball Realignment

Before I begin, I must pose this disclaimer: the word “realignment” may not be strong enough for my regurgitation that follows. With the recent “realignment” in the NHL, not only were teams shuffled to and from divisions and conferences, but the entire standings and playoff structure and format was also “realigned.” Perhaps a better word describing my upcoming radical ideology is transmogrification: to change or transform into a different shape, especially a grotesque or bizarre one.

Grotesque? Debatable.

Bizarre? Unquestionable.

While some of you will undoubtedly find my following ramblings preposterously hideous, others may find it puzzling, inquisitive and plausibly comprehensible. Keep an open mind and let the regurgitated ramblings marinate a while before formulating an opinion.

And, here… we… GO.

Realignment is undoubtedly an unmentionable necessity in baseball. Over the course of six to seven months, players battle 100º+ heat, fly thousands of miles to cities all across North America, and endure numerous midnight-to-six-a.m. arrivals in foreign cities in order to complete a rigorous 162-game schedule in hopes of making a miniscule-sized postseason field. Unless, of course, you count the meaningless one-game Wild Card game as the “postseason” (which I do not; that’s entirely new can of regurgitations that I will not argue here).

Add to the fact that so much emphasis is put on “divisional” and “intraleague” games, and the teams geographically located in the western portion of the United States are at a severe disadvantage. For example, the National League Central division encompasses teams from Chicago, Cincinnati, Milwaukee, Pittsburgh and St. Louis–all less than 575 flight miles of each other.

On the flip side, the American League West consists of teams from Dallas, Houston, Los Angeles, Oakland and Seattle — where the furthest distance between teams is almost 1,900 air miles, not to mention two times zones away.

Realignment is an unspoken necessity. MLB executives know certain teams are at a severe disadvantage due to the current alignment of teams and divisions, but no one wants to take the mess of juggling 30 teams and realigning them to a more appropriate and fair alignment.

Enter radical ideology here.

First and foremost: this idea eliminates divisions altogether and has two balanced leagues, American and National, each with 15 teams. The only difference from the current standings is that Seattle would move to the National League and Arizona would move to the American League to help better balance travel miles.

Considering that the Mariners and Diamondbacks swap leagues, each league has 15 teams and the breakdown begins on scheduling and postseason play:

Regular Season Scheduling

One of the biggest caveats to the current MLB scheduling process is that many folks think 162 games is too many and takes away from more exciting postseason games. I concur. So? We shorten the season to 144 games as follows:

  • Each team plays the other 14 teams in their respective league 6 times (3 home, 3 away) for a total of 84 games.
  • Each team plays all 15 teams in the other league 4 times (2 home, 2 away) for a total of 60 games.

Why does this scheduling work? For many reasons:

  1. It keeps an emphasis on division/intraleague games, with 84 of 144 games being against teams within the same league (58.3%).
  2. It ensures fans get to see every team in their home ballpark every single season.
  3. The level of competition is more even, as every team in baseball plays each other every season and provides a better measure of who the best team is.
  4. It shortens the season to 144 games, ensuring more time for real postseason games (and not a wild card one-game “playoff”).

That was a primer. Now that you’re warmed up, the real radical ideology begins:

Postseason: Eligibility, Scheduling and Format

With the elimination of divisions, there are only two leagues, each with 15 teams battling to get into the postseason. With my idea, five of 15 teams qualify for legitimate postseason play. This number is the same as the current number, but the one-game wild card playoff has been eliminated.

At the end of the regular season, the top three teams from each league earn a spot in the Divisional Round (Round Two), with the two next best teams in each league earning a spot in the Wildcard Round (Round One).

I know. I said the one-game wild card was eliminated. And, it is. The Wildcard Round is a best-of-three series between the number four and fives seeds from each league. This is where it gets REALLY interesting:

At the conclusion of the regular season, the top seed in each league is given the option of whom they would like to play in the Divisional Round–either the second seed, third seed, or the yet-to-be-determined winner of the three-game Wildcard Round. This puts a huge emphasis on winning the league–you have the option of who you want to play in the Divisional Round.

As the top seed, it is a huge advantage, but also a huge decision. You can elect to play a lower seed (the Wildcard winner); however, you won’t know who your opponent is until the winner is decided and will have less time to prepare for that opponent. You could elect to choose a higher seed (the second or third seed) and play (hypothetically) tougher competition, but would know who your opponent is, would be able to better prepare for them, and force the second seed to wait to find out their opponent. The other Divisional Round matchups are decided based on the top seed’s selection.

Here’s a hypothetical example of seedings and postseason selections based on the 2013 final standings in the American League:

2013 Final AL Standings

1. Boston (97-65)

2. Oakland (96-66)

3. Detroit (93-69)

4. Cleveland (92-70)

5. Tampa Bay (92-71)

In this example, let’s say Boston elects to play Detroit, instead of waiting to see who the winner is between Cleveland and Tampa Bay. Oakland would then be forced to wait to see who the winner is and would host the Wildcard Round winner in the Divisional Round. Assuming Tampa Bay beats Cleveland in the three-game Wildcard Round, the Divisional Round matchups would be as follows, based on Boston’s selection:

1. Boston vs. 3. Detroit

2. Oakland vs. 5. Tampa Bay

The following rounds (except the World Series) are then played as they are currently in terms of format (five or seven games) and location. Home-field advantage is determined in subsequent rounds based on regular season records and current tiebreaking procedures.

A change WOULD be made to the World Series round: determining home-field advantage. I understand the logic behind making the winner of the All-Star game the league that “wins” home-field advantage during the World Series. However, I don’t agree with it.

Why should a player or players on teams who will not make the postseason help determine the outcome of who gets home-field advantage? With a more balanced schedule and with every team playing each other, home-field advantage would be awarded to the team with the better regular-season record, or determined by the current tie-breaking procedures. The team’s performance during the regular season should determine that, and would place even more emphasis on winning as many games as possible during the regular season.

That’s a whole heap of radical information to read through. Here’s an easy breakdown of the logistics of my radical transmogrification of MLB:

  • No more divisions; only two leagues (American and National) with 15 teams each.
  • Seattle moves to the AL, Arizona moves to the NL.

REGULAR SEASON

  • Each team plays the other 14 teams in their own league 6 times (3 home, 3 away) for a total of 84 games.
  • Each team plays all 15 teams in the other league 4 times (2 home, 2 away) for a total of 60 games.
  • Total games played for each team during the regular season: 144.

POSTSEASON

  • The top 3 teams in each League earn a spot in the Divisional Round with the two next best teams facing off in a Wildcard Round (Round One).
  • Round One: Wildcard Round (3 games)
  • Round Two: Divisional Round (5 games)
  • Round Three: League Championship (7 games)
  • Round Four: World Series (7 games)
  • At the conclusion of the Regular Season, the top seed in each League is given the option of what team they want to face in the Divisional Round (#2, #3 or the yet-to-be-determined winner of the Wildcard Round). The top seed has one hour following final out of the regular season.

Wildcard Round

  • A three-game series between the #4 and #5 teams in each league.
  • To ensure games in both parks, the #5 team hosts the first game, the #4 team hosts the final two games.
  • The winner moves on to the Divisional Round.

Divisional Round

  • Two five-game series between the four remaining teams in each League.
  • Matchups are determined by the #1 seed’s pick prior to the Wildcard Round.
  • To ensure games in both parks, the lower seed in each matchup hosts the first two games with the top seed hosting the last three games of the series.

League Championship

  • A seven-game series between the two remaining teams in each League.
  • The highest remaining seed hosts games 1, 2, 5 and 7.
  • The lower seed hosts games 3, 4 and 6.
  • The winner moves on to the World Series.

World Series

  • A seven-game series between the one remaining team from each League.
  • Team with the best regular-season record hosts games 1, 2, 4 and 7.

Hypothetical Example (AL):

  1. Boston
  2. Oakland
  3. Detroit
  4. Cleveland
  5. Tampa Bay
  • Boston elects to play Detroit in Divisional Round; Oakland waits to see who wins the Wildcard Round.
  • Cleveland and Tampa Bay play in Wildcard Round; Tampa Bay wins and plays Oakland in the Divisional Round.
  • Divisional Round: Boston vs. Detroit ; Oakland vs. Tampa Bay (Boston and Oakland win).
  • Boston hosts Oakland in ALCS due to a better regular-season record; winner moves on to World Series to face the National League Champion.

How’s THAT for some Thursday brain juice? Like I said, let it marinate. You my find it’s not as preposterous as you think.

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