Baseball’s wild cards strike again

The 2017 Major League Baseball season offers a strong indictment of the current format of two wild card teams. I rarely see or hear criticism of the new format; the consensus of the writers and talking heads seems to be that adding the second wild card has been a masterstroke, simultaneously making division races more meaningful and creating exciting races for each league’s last slot.

This year’s final standings come up short on those aspects, and more importantly, on another that has concerned me ever since the format was adopted.

This season, we do have some very deserving division winners. Two AL teams (Astros and Indians) have over 100 wins, as does one NL team (Dodgers). Another NL team has 97. However, if the selling point of the format is that it makes races exciting, this season did not deliver so much. Most of the second half of the season, it was fairly clear who was going to get nine of the ten postseason slots. In the AL, the second wild card was more up for grabs, as a bunch of mediocre teams (including my favorite team) vied for the slot. In the NL, most of the season, the two eventual wild card winners were close to one another, but far ahead of the pack. Only a late winning streak by the Diamondbacks and a slide by the Rockies let the Brewers back in and made the race for the second wild card somewhat interesting at the end.

Now look at the wild cards. The gap between the two winners in the AL (Yankees over Twins) is six games. In the NL it is also six (Diamondbacks ahead of Rockies). In both leagues, then, we will have single-elimination games pitting teams whose regular-season finishes were not even close.

It is fundamentally unfair in baseball to give a team so decisively surpassed during the regular season one shot at dethroning the team that bested it during the 162-game schedule. If it happens in a best-of-5, or preferably a best-of-7, well, that’s the way it goes sometimes; a series is a fundamentally fairer way of giving a lesser team a shot and is what has made the postseason compelling ever since divisional play was introduced in 1969.

The wild card is also a splendid idea. It prevents one of the league’s top teams from missing the postseason entirely despite having a better record than one or more division winners. But as soon as that postseason starts, one unlucky game can end the superior team’s season at the hands of the inferior team. This year, one of the wild card teams has the same record as one of the division winners. Yet the Cubs would not be eliminated until they lose three games (and it would be to a team with a better regular season record), while the Diamondbacks would be eliminated if they lose only one (to an inferior team). This is fundamentally bad institutional design.

The design of institutions is something we care a lot about here. There must be a solution to the problems I have identified in the current MLB playoff structure. I still prefer my previous proposal of “two divisions, two wild cards” (2D2W) wth or without the “asymmetric series” that I also proposed. However, when I made the 2D2W proposal, I was arguing for keeping the number of teams advancing to the postseason at four rather than the new format’s five. Even if MLB recognized the improvement my plan offers over the status quo, it is highly unlikely the number of teams making the postseason would ever be decreased.

So, we need to work with five teams advancing, while satisfying my criteria of not having a single-elimination game that might pit teams with substantially different records against one another, and also preserving the current principle of some reward for winning a division rather than a wild card. (Ideally, also enhancing the odds of the team with the best record getting to at least the LCS, or at least not reducing those odds.) I have tried to game out (so to speak) postseason formats that would balance these goals. I have failed. Maybe someone can come up with a plan.

As I said in my 2015 version of this complaint, whatever the outcome, October ball is almost here, and even dumb institutional design can’t ruin that!

28 thoughts on “Baseball’s wild cards strike again

  1. I think Joe Girardi suggested having a best of three series in three straight days starting the day after the season ends. This wouldn’t delay the start of the division series, at least in years without tiebreaker games, and would give a fairer shot to the wild card teams. Of course some idiot at MLB replied that a three games series would take at least four or five days, seemingly unable to comprehend the idea that the second wild card team doesn’t need a home game and a baseball series with a day off after every game would be a disaster. (Ace pitcher, second guy, ace again on three days rest!)

    Anyone for six split season division champions and the two best teams not already in playoffs based on 162 game record, with byes for teams that win both halves?

  2. If the 1969-94 divisions had been retained, also assuming the Astros and the Brewers hadn’t swapped leagues, the Dodgers and the Astros in the NL West would have finished 3 games apart, and the Twins and the Angels in the AL West, and the Nationals and the Cubs in the NL East, also 5 games apart. There would have been an exciting NL West divisional race. Getting rid of meaningful divisional races was the worst effect of the Wild Card.

  3. As a mental exercise, a couple years ago I tried to come up with a better system than the current one that would also get ten of the thirty MLB teams in the playoffs, which seems to be an objective of the owners.

    I came up with the following. The regular season schedule would wind up as very unbalanced, and more playoff teams would be added, but I will address the effects on the regular season and how it would be restructured in a follow up post.

    1. Both leagues would be divided into five divisions of three teams each.

    2. All five division winners in each league would advance to the playoffs.

    3. The first round of the playoffs would be a round robin (it could be called the “Champions’ Round”), where each of the five teams in each league would play a three game series agianst each of the other four teams. All three games would be played at the home stadium of the team with the stronger regular season record. That means the team in the league with the best regular season record would play all twelve games of this round at home.

    4. The two teams in each league with the best first round round robin records would play each other in the best of seven League Championship Series, with home field advantage going to the team with the best first playoff round record.

    5. The two LCS winners would face each other in the World Series.

    To qualify for the playoffs, a team would have to have won half its regular season games plus one, in other words have a regular season record stronger than .500. If a division winner failed to do this, it would be replaced by the non-division winner in the league with the best regular season record, though that team would also have had to finish above .500. So there would still be occasional “wild card” teams in the playoffs.

    Baseball is the most regional or local of the major league sports, and the small three team divisions would play to this. But you get ten teams in the playoffs, a clear advantage for the team with the best record in the league, and beating your two divisional rivals in the regular season would really matter, much more than it does now.

    • As I mentioned earlier, there would be a slight increase in the number of play-off games, and having three team divisions would mean each team would play alot of games against its divisional rivals. The latter is fine as far as I’m concerned, it would cut down travel and encourage more local rivalries, and a team that padded its record by beating up on two weak divisional rivals would be shown up as a weak team in the round robin that starts the playoffs.

      To make this work in practice, the regular season would return to 154 games instead of 162 as at present. There would be 10 inter-league games, leaving 144. Each team would play 24 games against each of the other two teams in its division, which would work fine divided into 4 game series or 3 game series, for a total of 48. Each team would play 8 games against each of the other 12 teams in the division, a 4 games series at home and a 4 game series away, for a total of 96.

      While not really needed to make this work, I would have the Angels and the Mets, and the Rays and the Nationals, switch leagues. The precedent for this has already been made with the switch of the Astros and Brewers, and the sixteen original teams would still stay in their original leagues. The switches would enable geographically tighter three team divisions.

      Assuming the Angels -Mets and the Astros -Brewers league switches are made, I propose the following divisions:

      American League

      Ruth Division: Red Sox, Yankees, Mets
      Ripkin Division: Blue Jays, Orioles, Nationals
      Cobb Division: Indians, Tigers, White Sox
      Ryan Division: Astros, Rangers, Royals
      Northwest Division: Athletics, Mariners, Twins

      National League

      Wagner Division: Phillies, Pirates, Reds
      Aaron Division: Braves, Marlins, Rays
      Musial Division: Brewers, Cardinals, Cubs
      Mays Division: Diamondbacks, Giants, Rockies
      Robinson Division: Angels, Dodgers, Padres

      The Northwest Division would be renamed the Suzuki Division when Ichiro finally retires.

      With the changes in the regular season schedule and the league switches, the regular season records would not have been the same, but assuming they wound up close to the actual regular season records, the American League playoff teams would have been the Indians, Astros, Nationals, Red Sox, and Twins, in that order (though note the Indians and Astros finished within a game of each other).

      The top three National League seeds would have been the Dodgers, the Diamondbacks, and the Cubs, and it gets uncertain with the bottom two seeds.

      In the National League, two of the putative division winners, the Rays and the Pirates, had losing regular season records. The Rays were 80-82, so probably with the switch to the National League and playing more regular season games against the weak Braves and Marlins, they would have finished above .500. The Pirates were so bad that they may well have still wound up with a losing record, even with 48 games scheduled against the Philles and the Reds. In that case the Cardinals would have replaced them as the wild card.

      • Interesting idea. Not sure I’d get behind either three team divisions or leaving division winners out of the playoff–they did beat the teams they were directed to go out and beat after all. I think the biggest problem here is that the Mets don’t want to be in the same division as the Yankees. When radical realignment was proposed the Mets directly objected to it, and many agreed that they would have a hard time when playing the same teams as the Yankees.

      • As a follow-up to the above, apparently MLB is considering expanding again, to 32 teams:

        http://www.baseballamerica.com/columnists/expansion-trigger-realignment-longer-postseason/#UP8r18rkqFfWBy5g.97

        The additional teams would be in Montreal and Portland if the speculation is correct. I understand the reasons for Montreal but I think Portland is too small a market for a competitive MLB team.

        I’m skeptical of the value of expansion if there is not a concurrent expansion of the talent pool. The first expansion came towards the end of the integration of African-American players in the league.

        But if MLB expands, I agree that going to eight divisions is probably inevitable.

        If they do, they should use my idea of a five team Champions round, followed by a League Championship Series between the top two teams from the Champions Round, instead of imitating the NFL playoff format which is what they will most likely do.

        My concept would still work with two leagues and eight divisions, with the alteration that the non-division winner in each league would always be a Wild Card team, with the provision that it would have to have had a better record than the four division winners. This would usually be the case, so there usually would be a five team Champions Round (four teams if that was not the case). There would still be additional Wild Card substitutes for division winners that could not manage to win more than half their regular season games.

        These would then be the divisions:

        American League

        East Division: Red Sox, Yankees, Orioles, Rays
        North Division: Blue Jays, Indians, Tigers, White Sox
        Central Division: Astros, Royals, Rangers, Twins
        West Division: Angels, Mariners, Athletics, expansion team

        National League

        East Division: Marlins, Rays, Mets, expansion
        East Central Division: Braves, Phillies, Pirates, Reds
        West Central Division: Brewers, Cardinals, Cubs, Rockies
        West Division: Diamondbacks, Giants, Padres, Dodgers

        In this case there would be no teams switching leagues, though you would lose the advantage of more localized divisions.

  4. Here’s a heretical thought: shorten the postseason while keeping five teams in each league.

    Three division champions in each league and two wild cards make the playoffs. The wild card teams play a three game series. The wild card series winner and the 3 division champions are seeded by record and paired off (1v4 and 2v3). The division series and LCS are five game series. All four series in each league are played in one park, with no off days or travel days. Three games in three days, day off, five games in five days, day off, five games in five days. All games hosted by the division champion with the better record among the paired teams.

    Why? A baseball team is not tested by a game. A baseball team is tested by series of games played over long periods. They are forced to use five starting pitchers and to ration their bullpens (and sometimes catchers and fielders) for the next day. Five games in five days does that. Allowing one team to host all of them also gives meaning to the regular season. Travel days skew the rhythm of baseball. Neither MLB, the players, nor seemingly the networks, want to change cities without a day off. The networks probably don’t want seven straight days of a single series.

    Impossible, I know.

  5. To bring back do or die division races, five division winners in each league is required. As long as there are wild cards, a winner-take-all race between two very good teams is IMPOSSIBLE. My suggestion is

    NL East NY PHI PIT
    South WAS ATL FLA
    North CIN CHI STL
    Central HOU COL ARI
    West SF LA SD

    AL East BOS NY BAL
    North TOR CLE DET
    Central CHI MIL MIN
    South KC TEX TB
    West SEA OAK LA

    12 games vs each divisional opponent
    10 games over 3 series vs each team in same league
    12 interleague games
    156 games
    The two division winners from each league with the worst records play in a best of three. The winners of those series play the top league winners in a best of 7, but only play games 4 and 5 at home. This is a tougher path to the World Series for the lowest seeded division winners.

    • I’m all for making divisional races important, but three team divisions and only 36/162 intra-divisional games is a really, really bad idea. Using last year’s records, which obviously would be different, you’d end with up with Pittsburgh (75 wins), KC or Tampa Bay (80 wins each), and the Angels (80 wins) making the playoffs with sub .500 records. You’d also end up with Washington (20 games, thought that happened anyway), Chicago (9 games, only team to win more than they lost), Houston (14 games), Los Angeles (33 games), and Cleveland (26 games) sleepwalking through their division. In exchange for five teams almost literally sleepwalking into the playoffs you’d get a race between Milwaukee and Minnesota and a three team sub .500 race in the AL South.

      Yeah, no.

      • With 10 divisions and a balanced schedule, there are bound to be close division races between good teams. Boston and NY, Chicago and St. Louis, SF and LA, Tex and KC. The effects of this format are 1. Do or die division races. 2. Even if some divion winners are around .500, those races are more than likely to be close, and they must travel a tougher path in the playoffs by playing a best of 3 and then play the first 3 on the road vs the top league winners. I would say such teams have a 10% chance of reaching the LCS.

      • If they are playing a balanced schedule, what is the point of divisions at all?

        With a balanced schedule, how is a 1st place 79-83 team better than a third place 83-79 team?

    • Instead of 12 games vs each divisional opponent, a semi balanced schedule like the NL used from 1969-1992 would work.
      18 games vs each divisional opponent (36)
      9 games vs the other 12 opponents (108)
      12 interleague games
      League opponents from different divisions would have 30 games different on the schedule, which is identical to the 1969-1992 NL schedule.
      With the current schedule, that number is 70, 2.5 times higher.

    • The 2018 MLB season is at its halfway point. What would the standings be like with a five-division per league alignment?

      PHI 45-37 BOS 56-28
      PIT 40-43 NY 53-27
      NY 33-48 BAL 24-59

      ATL 48-34 TB 42-41
      WAS 42-40 TEX 38-47
      FLA 34-51 KC 25-58

      CHI 47-35 CLE 45-37
      STL 42-40 TOR 39-44
      CIN 36-48 DET 37-48

      HOU 55-31 MIL 48-35
      ARI 47-36 MIN 35-45
      COL 41-43 CHI 29-54

      LA 44-39 SEA 54-31
      SF 44-40 OAK 46-39
      SD 37-49 LA 43-42

      Houston and Milwaukee switching leagues will change some outcomes. TB would more than likely have a better record because they would not play Boston more than 9 or 10 times. Overall, it looks good. There might be some comfortable division leads but it is important to note the two division winners with the worst records from each league play a best-of-three before the victor of that series plays the top league winner. This will create races AMONG division leaders. Philadelphia and Chicago are only separated by two games for the three seed. Cleveland may have a 6.5 game lead, but as of today, they might be in a closer race with Milwaukee. This important feature is absent from the current format.

      • 2019 standings under a five-division format.

        PHI 48-45 NY 59-32
        PIT 44-48 BOS 50-42
        NY 42-51 BAL 28-65

        ATL 57-37 TB 55-40
        WAS 49-43 TEX 50-44
        FLA 34-57 KC 32-62

        CHI 50-43 CLE 51-40
        STL 46-45 TOR 35-59
        CIN 42-48 DET 29-59

        HOU 59-35 MIN 58-34
        COL 46-46 MIL 48-46
        ARI 47-47 CHI 42-47

        LA 61-33 OAK 53-41
        SD 45-48 LA 48-46
        SF 43-49 SEA 39-58

  6. Wild cards in baseball are not a splendid idea. They are a division race killing idea. If two teams are neck and neck for first place, but both have locks for the post season, the excitement has been extinguished. 1993 is a great example. After game 161, Atlanta and San Fran were tied with 103 wins. That was the best race I have seen because only ONE could play in the post season. In effect, those WERE playoff games. If your two division, two wild card format was in effect that year, what would have been the difference between finishing first and second?

  7. I agree with most of what Thaddeus wrote except for the balanced schedule.

    A balanced schedule basically means you are going for a big nationwide league where every teams plays every other team and equal amount of games. One effect of this is that the regular season records really will correlate highly with how well each team has played. With a balanced schedule you really don’t need divisions or even leagues at all, and really even the playoffs are a big TV production.

    An unbalanced schedule follows from having smaller, more local divisions. Teams travel less, people are more focused on their local team and its rivals. Since the divisions will vary in quality, it follows that once you get division winners you should have some sort of playoff tournament with the other division winners to determine which is the best teams. The winners of weak divisions shouldn’t advance that far in such a tournament.

    This point keeps getting lost in this discussion. From the standpoint of determining the best team, there is no need for playoffs at all in a league where each team plays each other team an equal amount of time, and a sufficient amount of times. This is by definition in fact. I realize the current schedule and Thaddeus’ schedule is not quite balanced, but close enough. So alot of this stuff is trying to have your cake, lots of TV revenue from playoff games, and eat it too, try to get the best team to actually win the playoffs. Put playoffs on top of a regular season with a balanced schedule, and the playoff winner will always be a worst team than the team with the best regular season record unless they happen to be the same team.

    My own proposal envisages teams playing most of their games in the regular season against nearby teams, which I think is truer to baseball’s roots as a local/ regional sport.

    • I prefer the two division, no wild cards format from 1969-1993. The American League played under a balanced schedule from 1979-1993 and the best team won the pennant all but TWO times (’85 Royals, ’87 Twins). A balanced or nearly balanced schedule is needed to maintain the integrity of the season. Playing an unbalanced schedule and applying a football style format to the playoffs is nonsensical. Short series in baseball tell you nothing about which team is better because even the worst teams win 40% of their games. A 95-win team could play an 82-win team in a best of five, and no one should be surprised the series goes the distance. Winning 3 of 5 is 60%. A 95-win team has LESS THAN a .600 win %.
      If there are no divisions, then there is just a race for the final spot for playoff qualification. In my suggestion, ALL the races are do or die, which is infinitely better than an unbalanced schedule of three divisions and two wild cards, in which the last winner-take-all close division race was FIVE years ago. Having to finish first changes the WHOLE dynamics of the season. The complaint about 5 divisions is there will be weak division winners. There are weak division winners under the current format, but the unbalanced schedule leads some to believe that is not the case. An unbalanced schedule skews results. If there are weak division winners under the 5-division system, one will be eliminated in the best of three and if a weak division winner advances to a division series, it must play the first 3 of those games on the road right after playing 2 or 3 games. They have by far the lowest odds of winning the pennant.

  8. 1994 and 1998. The two years mistakes were made that eliminated pennant race baseball. 1994 was the first season with three divisions in each league. That was not the mistake. The mistake was adding a wild card. Why not just allow the three division winners in the post season? The top league winners await the victors from the best of three series between the other two division winners. This actually creates FOUR races; three division races and a race for the best record which gives that team a significant advantage. The top league winner has essentially won the pennant so why not reward that team? The worst trade in baseball was trading away a winner-take-all division race for a wild card race. It’s like trading an ounce of gold for an ounce of copper.
    In 1998, two teams were added to the league, but instead of placing them both in the American League to create four divisions, one was placed in the NL, the other in the AL, and the Brewers were moved to the NL. This is what should have happened and remained so to this day:

    NL East NY PHI PIT MON
    South HOU ATL FLA
    Central CHI STL CIN
    West SF LA SD COL

    AL East BOS NY BAL TB
    North TOR CLE DET MIL
    Central CHI MIN KC TEX
    West ARI LA OAK SEA

    These are geographically sound and no team switches leagues. Scheduling is also significantly improved with an even number of teams in each league and most importantly, only division winners make the playoffs. From 1994-2011, four teams from each league qualified for the playoffs. If four qualify, why not have four divisions? The two division winners with the best records from each league play the first three games at home in the division series.

    • I still maintain that three team divisions are too small. I’m also not a fan of disadvantaging division champions so much in a playoff series (wild card teams would be another matter)

      However I read Bob Costas’ book Fair Ball many moons ago and he also advocated three divisions/three playoff teams. He pointed out the problems with byes in baseball (rustiness) but made a reasonable counterpoint: who would really not want a ticket through the first round. I would happily have taken three team playoffs and a bye week.

      I think the ship as long sailed for playoff contraction though.

      • If three division winners and two wild cards are the playoff design, a major improvement would be to shorten the season by 4-8 games, turn the wild card games to best of threes, and change the division series to best of sevens.
        14 games vs each divisional opponent (56)
        9 games over three series vs each league opponent (90)
        12 interleague games
        Top league winners get games 1,2,3 at home in the division series
        The unbalanced schedule must go. Division leaders are always piling up wins on the same two or three teams.

      • I could live with that schedule (almost). I personally think giving a team games 1-3 is a tad much. But I would have no problem whatsoever letting the LDS and LCS be played with a 2-2-3 format; as long as a Wild Card team never gets the extra home games.

        But if you’re going to have a balanced schedule, what is the point of divisions. Just take the top teams. If teams are playing basically the same schedule, there is no real difference between, say, a 90-72 second place team and a 90-72 division champion. Except one might go home a lot earlier because of geography. When you have teams in a division all playing the same schedule, and one that is different from other divisions, the division championship is a meaningful entity.

        Sports is one of those few areas where I am a real, hardcore conservative. The change from one division to two in each league was rationally accompanied by a clear and meaningful schedule that made the champion of each division a worthy champion and a worthy competitor in the LCS. The American League’s second worse idea of the 70s made the LCS a random event. Any complaint about sending second place teams home because they have a better record then the other/another division winner becomes really, really important when there is no meaning to being in one division or the other.

        Have divisions mean something or have them relegated to the ash heap of history.

  9. You’ve asked what is the point of divisions if you’re going to have a balanced schedule? The way I see it, a balanced or somewhat balanced schedule is needed to maintain the integrity of the season. What I mean by that is in order to determine the best team in that league, every opponent is played an equal number of times or close to it. The Cubs played the Phillies 22 times, the Reds 22 times, the Braves 22 times, and so on. It’s the fairest of all schedules. Now we go from one pennant race to two pennant races in 1969. We still want to know which team is the best. A balanced schedule will tell us that. In that year however, a semi balanced schedule was used and it could still determine which team was the best. 55% of a teams games were vs divisional opponents and the other 44% vs the other six teams. Compare the number of games different from two teams in different divisions and the answer is 30. In other words, if each of those teams played another 30 games to play their opponents the same number of times which team would be the best? If one division winner finished with 10 more wins than the other, it is highly unlikely they would lose a 10 game lead in a month. So the point of a balanced or semi balanced schedule is to find out which team is the best and if it is too close to call, that is what the LCS is for. The point of divisions is to MAINTAIN PENNANT RACES. Simply taking the top teams is not a pennant race. It’s playoff qualification. The history of MLB up until 1994 was the pennant race. I would like to maintain the pennant race AND know which team is the best from that league. The only way to accomplish these is a schedule like I described and wild cards do not exist. Were the Indians the best team in the AL last season? I don’t know because their schedule was so much different than Boston’s and Houston’s. They lost in a division series but that doesn’t mean NY was better. Were the A’s the best team in the AL in 1990? Without a doubt. Were the Reds the best in the NL in 1973? Yeah, even though they lost.
    You want divisions to mean something but right now a division title in baseball is about as equivalent to a division title in football.
    I do have a question. What is the point of playing teams outside a division? You said when you have teams in a division all playing the same schedule, and one that is different from other divisions, the division championship is a meaningful entity. In 1984, why did the Cubs play the Giants, Dodgers, Astros, etc? Why not play only divisional opponents. They could have played each of their divisional opponents 32 times. Why play a non divisional game when a divisional one could be played?

    • It seems that we are almost arguing the same side of the issue, but have radically different ideas of how to reach that. We both want to find the best team, but recognize that the days of a pennant winner going straight to the World Series are long gone. While I don’t want just the World Series, I would happily go back to just having the two LCS and a World Series.

      If we want to find the best team, having balanced schedules will allow that. Mathematically I would only let a team claim that they are the best if every team played the same teams the same number of games, but that is just me. If we have more-or-less-balanced schedules, we could say that one team is better than the other. But that is a problem when at most three teams are allowed from the same division. The goal of finding the best team is lost when the sixth best team is allowed into the playoffs simply because of who their name was grouped with in the standings. Sure you’d get a pennant race, but one just as diluted as the NFL races you say you don’t like.

      I like pennant races. I almost like them better than seven game series. But not when they are only playoff qualification pools because we already know that the winner is not the best team because of balanced schedules. Unbalanced schedules allow us to say that Team A is the best of the teams, ABCDE, that played the same schedule. It will play teams F,K and L or M to see who is the best team in the league at large. Baseball has 120 years of history saying that playoff series are a good way to test teams that emerged from separate competitions. Obviously teams cannot play a whole schedule against only their divisional rivals, though it would make things easier.

      • Yes, an unbalanced schedule allows us to say team A is the best from ABCDE. A balanced schedule will do the same. If there are two divisions and a balanced schedule, we will know team A from division 1 is the best and team H is the best from division 2. In 1984, Detroit was the best in the east and KC was the best in the west. We also knew, before the LCS, Detroit was the best overall. My impression is you don’t want to know which team is better BEFORE the series is played. You want the LCS to decide it like in 1982, 1983, 1986, 1991, 1992, and 1993(these were the ALCS). In those years, the differences in the division winners records were no more than a few games. As I mentioned, the AL played a near balanced schedule when there were two divisions from 1979-1993 and it worked extremely well. There were many years when the two division winners had close records and when they were not close, the better team won ( except the ’87 Twins, who were given home field). My only disagreement was altering home field. Just give home field to the team with the better record. History tells us that system worked extremely well.
        There are two leagues, but with the current schedule, it is like there are six leagues, each division being its own league, and to me, that goes against what the leagues should be. I don’t like the leagues divided up so much. The Cubs used to play the Phillies 18 times, but now six or seven, which is silly because the two have been around for at least 120 years.

      • To each his own then.

        I prefer the idea of “six leagues.” It gives meaning to the playoffs by making it a contest of “league champions.” A balanced schedule just makes it a potentially unfair way to pick teams for a tournament.

  10. There was no meaning to the playoffs in the AL in 1980? 1982? ’83, ’85, ’86, ’91, ’92, ”93? How would an unbalanced schedule have given more meaning to those division titles? In 1983, Baltimore won 98 games, and Chicago won 99. Those division titles were not legitimate? Suppose an unbalanced schedule was played in 1984. Detroit still finishes as the best. Or apply an unbalanced schedule to ’88, ’89, or ’90. The best team is Oakland.
    I’m not a proponent of a balanced schedule, but one similar to the NL schedule from 1969-1992. I think a fair schedule is one in which each divisional opponent is played 12 to 14 times, and the remaining league opponents are each played 9 or 10 times. What I have always thought is an unbalanced schedule is a potentially unfair way to pick wild cards. A 91-71 team from division A is not necessarily better than an 89-73 team from division B. With wild cards, a more balanced schedule is needed.

    • I also thought the NL scheduling formula, an 18/12 split, was quite good. I wouldn’t call it balanced. 12-14 vs 9-10 is a little too balanced for my tastes.

      If everyone plays the same schedule or basically the same schedule, then a division “championship” won by a team that would finish 3rd or 4th in another division composed of teams that played the same schedule is not a legitimate championship. If you are going to compete against a set group of teams for a single playoff spot, you should have to play them more than other teams and play the same teams the same number of times.

      • You also must factor in the interleague games as well.
        13 games vs each divisional opponent
        9 games vs each league opponent
        20 interleague games
        Each divisional opponent is played 4 more times than each non divisional opponent. With 4 divisional opponents, that’s 16 games plus the 20 interleague games equals 36 games that are different if you compare one division winner to another. That is 6 more than the 18/12 split in the NL you thought was quite good. If you thought that was fine, you shouldn’t have a problem with this one.

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