Athletic Supporter's recent diary about the unbalanced schedule made me look at some old notes I had made about the "ideal" league.
It's true that the league's current schedule isn't exactly fair for all teams. For instance, the A's face the Yankees only six times this year, and the Devil Rays 10. No other AL West team plays the Yankees so little, or the DRays more often. That could be worth a swing of a game or two in the standings, potentially.
But it's also impossible to have an even schedule with 16 NL teams, 14 AL teams, and uneven divisions. Bumping one team to the NL would require constant interleague play and would be a scheduling headache. It also doesn't solve the problem of not having enough West Coast teams to fill out the AL West.
There's also the inherent inequity of one four-team division and one six-team division, with an equal amount of playoff berths at stake.
This is how I hope, and expect, Major League Baseball will look 15 years from now. It would solve all scheduling problems, increase parity and equity, and promote excitement.
League Alignment, after adding MLB's final two expansion teams in 2020:
1. A's 2. Angels 3. Mariners 4. Las Vegas/Portland (whichever is more viable and interested at that point)
1. Royals 2. Rangers 3. White Sox 4. Monterrey, Mexico/Memphis/Norfolk, Va. (One of these 3 locations. Economically, Monterrey is MLB's only viable expansion south of the border).
1. Twins 2. Indians 3. Tigers 4. Brewers (That's right, I'm sending their ass back where they came from...sort of).
1. Yankees 2. Red Sox 3. Orioles 4. Blue Jays
1. Giants 2. Dodgers 3. Padres 4. Diamondbacks
1. Rockies 2. Cardinals 3. Cubs 4. Reds
1. Braves 2. Marlins 3. Astros 4. Devil Rays (Tampa Bay is far enough away from South Florida that I think it's ok that they're in the same division as the Marlins. Plus, it's the best fit geographically, and finally gives the Rays a chance to build some legitimate rivalries and get to the playoffs, which their fan base sorely needs to become more interested).
1. Nationals 2. Mets 3. Phillies 4. Pirates
Selling points of this plan (which has some NFL similarities):
1. Look how nicely this schedule breaks down:
*18 interleague games, which stays the same. But instead of those games being picked at random (which leads to inequity), each team plays 12 games against one division in the other league every year. So, in an example of a typical year, every team in the AL West would play a 3 game series against each team in the NL West. The other six games would be continuing the "Interleague Rivalry series" tradition - a six game home-and-home with the team's closest opponent in the opposite league. (Giants/A's, Dodgers/Angels). Of course, with this proposal, every four years you'd have to play your "interleague rival" nine times. That's not a problem - those games are often lucrative for both teams. The other three years the A's would play the entire NL Central one year, the NL South the next year, and the NL East the year after that.
*144 intraleague games - 72 in the division, 72 outside the division.
72 in-division games - a whopping 24 games against division opponents, making divisional rivalries more important than ever. All of September is divisional play with little travel and exciting division race finishes for each team.
72 non-division games - 12 opponents per team x 6 games apiece = 72 games. Two 3-game, home-and-home series against every team outside your division. Very equitable. Virtually eliminates complaints about favorable schedules.
2. Teams like the Devil Rays finally have a legitimate chance at the playoffs. For that matter, every team does. The Rays and Brewers shouldn't complain much about switching leagues - the Brewers traditionally belong there anyway, and by 2020 Bud Selig has no influence over the MLB power structure - which is basically how they ended up in the NL in the first place.
3. The playoffs (Wild-card round best-of-3, Division series best-of-5, Championship series best-of-7, World Series best-of-7):
Four division champs in each league, 2 wild cards in each league. The top 2 seeds in each league get a first round "bye", but it's only a three-day bye so that have just enough time to get fresh without losing their edge.
The bottom two division winners and the wild-cards have to meet the day after the regular season ends. They play a best-of-three, three-day series. The winners face the top two seeds the very next day, which gives the top seeds the advantage they deserve; the top seeds basically get the equivalent of an All-Star break to fly home, get rested, get their rotation set for the Divisional series. The wild-card series winner flys in exhausted, with their pitching weary, having played every day for a week or more and had three or four plane flights as well.
The current format hasn't given the division winners and elite teams any benefit in the playoffs. And there should be some reward for having the best regular season records. The plan shown above gives that.
It also doesn't really make the season much longer, which would be the obvious criticism of an extra round of the playoffs. The season stays about the same length because the "new first round" begins the day after the regular season, has no off days, and only last 3 days. The next round starts the day after the first one ends. Since the new first round includes no off days, it basically extends the season only one day, while increasing league revenue and the playoff hope/excitement for all fans year-round.
This is obviously a pie-in-the-sky, not-even-on-the-horizon plan. But if MLB every does expand, which of course is over a decade away, this is EXACTLY what I think they should do. In fact I think that expansion, under this plan, simplifies and enhances the game so much that it would be worth doing even in a less-than-rock-solid market. Certainly the league is making enough money that it can withstand a few years of rough spots with its two new expansion teams.