MLB will change playoff format — if cash is there

KEN FIDLIN, Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 7:39 PM ET

NEW YORK — Sooner or later, Major League Baseball is going to listen to its inner Gordon Gecko and expand the playoffs.

In the past 40 years, the “greed is good” formula has led baseball’s post-season from a two-team, one series, winner-take-all format to an eight-team tournament.

As much as you might think the reason was to share the excitement of playoffs between more teams every year, it’s been all about money all along.

Fair enough. It’s a business. Soon enough, they will expand the Division Series in both leagues to seven games, though not soon enough to save the Twins, the Reds or the Rays who found themselves on the brink of immediate elimination in the blink of an eye. The next step after that will be to add one more layer of games and expand the post-season to include as many as a dozen teams.

There are limitations, of course, mostly to do with the weather. They’re already pushing things a little deep this season. If the World Series goes the limit, it will end on Nov. 4.

In his interview session before Saturday’s game in Texas, Rays manager Joe Maddon was banging the drum for a longer LDS. Now, it’s obvious if this was a seven-game series both his team and the Twins would have a little more wiggle room but that wasn’t his point.

Short series are simply unfair in that a team’s entire 25-man roster isn’t tested in the same way it is tested over the course of the regular season. Truth is, in a five-game series, a team could get away with using three starters and perhaps the same number of relievers.

The bench strength that is so crucial to success over a long season can become obscured. Most baseball people agree that longer series provide a more accurate test of a team’s mettle.

Given the 162-game schedule that already pushes the limits at both ends of the weather cycle, how do you accomplish that?

“Doubleheaders,” Maddon says.

Now, nothing can screw up a team’s pitching staff like a doubleheader. Two games in one day can overtax a pitching staff to the point that it takes a week to recover. But Maddon is suggesting that, for these four or five (or whatever number) of scheduled doubleheaders, rosters could be expanded on those days to lessen the burden on the pitching staffs.

“Just because you are going to put a heavy strain on maybe a pitching staff in the middle of July as an example, which could negatively impact you for the week or two weeks after that, if you don’t have that extra guy or two to suck up an extra inning,” Maddon reasons. “I would prefer a seven-game series, but I would not want to extend this any further into the wintertime or the fall because that (World Series) we had in Philadelphia a couple of years ago was pretty nasty.”

Cito Gaston has long been a proponent of expanded playoffs and shorter seasons. He has suggested a 150-game schedule, a dozen teams in the playoffs and another full round of playoff games.

He believes the revenue that might be lost by shortening the season would be recouped because more teams would be in the September hunt, thus creating bigger crowds down the stretch in more cities.

Yankees manager Joe Girardi said he hasn’t really thought about it one way or the other.

“It would make it more interesting,” Girardi said. “It would give a different feel to the first round. I think clubs talk about the nervousness in the first round because it’s such a short series.

I guess I really don’t have a true feeling either way. I wouldn’t be opposed to it, though.”

The Twins might welcome such a change but nothing except, perhaps, electro-shock therapy can help them against the Yankees.

You want a long series? Well, in the last 13 playoff games (before Saturday) between the Twins and Yankees, the Yanks have won 11. But, if you include regular-season games in the eight seasons since Ron Gardenhire took over, the Twins have won just 18 of 74 meetings.

Bottom line, any playoff expansion will have to be justified by, well, the bottom line.

Baseball likes to talk about its “traditions” but no tradition can withstand the argument “Yeah, but we can make a quick buck with it.”

Once somebody is able to make that one stick, no change is too radical.


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