Ever since the playoffs began in the late 1960s, I never felt right about the early five-game system, the four-team system, with the "borrowed" wild card idea...the whole system, really. I wasn't sure what was missing, but somehow the traditional jump from a dominant regular season did not necessarily mean you were going to the World Series any more. Some team like the Twins, and their weird indoor non-baseball sky, non-baseball carpet, might trampoline a few hits and all the hard work of May, June, and July ends in tears for the Twins' opponent. I was happy that Colorado made the World Series, but it all came about because of one man's failure: Trevor Hoffman. A future HoFer had a singular moment of "fail" and San Diego's season evaporated.
What would work better??
I am going to use the American League and its fourteen teams to illustrate what I believe would create a lot more fan interest, get the right, no-doubt-about -it proven team into the World Series. It is now August 3rd, and the Athletics have shown what August can mean to a team not in contention: they have five possible first-basemen, they have mediocre crowds on a perfect Sunday for baseball, because the team they are playing also has a vanishingly small chance at the playoffs. The sports pages are filled with articles about football players and training camp holdouts, with small print for out of area games.
There doesn't have to be "The Dog Days of August".
I'm looking at the "Wild Card" standings at Baseball Reference:
Note the relative positions of the fourteen American League teams. Now, what if the "regular" season ended at the end of August? Ended with each team playing a balanced schedule, five at home, five away, against the other thirteen teams? At the end of 130 games, the top six teams play only amongst themselves, for September. Thirty games (not five, not seven) against all the other five top teams, and no one else. If the standings remained as they are, on August 31, as they are today, August 3rd, that would mean the Angels (slegna), Yankees, Red Sox, Texas, Tampa Bay, and Detroit Tigers would get a new schedule, starting September 1, and only playing each other. Pretend you are the PR guy for one of the six teams. Write some copy about "Six Teams...September!" Write up a hypothetical schedule. I did, and I could feel the intensity that was inherent in the concept.
The remaining eight teams, like the Athletics, could now give a shot to the Cliff Penningtons, the Tommy Everidges, and other call-ups, let them play against the lesser competition of Kansas City, Baltimore, Seattle (obviously, the eight teams would also get a new schedule come September 1, but it would not be as important if a game was missed here or there, or a doubleheader had to be scheduled because of a football game.) I feel it is important that teams with no chance to make the postseason, have the leeway to play "future starters" and not affect playoff races during September. Right now, through September, Kansas City and Cleveland have an obligation to "play to top form" whenever they play any of the contenders for the Central Division title. And the schedule guarantees they will be playing them heavily during September. The "Division Title" is a one-hundred-percent construct for MLB that might seem right for football, and its sixteen-game season....but not a sport with one-hundred-plus regular season games!
But let's return to August 3rd, today. That sixth spot that Detroit is holding by a narrow margin, and even Tampa Bay, they would be really generating fan interest, along with Chicago, Seattle, Minnesota, and Toronto. That means games in August would really have some octane, some intensity, for a lot of teams. Unfortunately, the Athletics are not in that group, but think of the American League and what this would mean for the majority of teams: top-rate competition in August for many teams, rather than going through the motions.
For the thirty games of September, the top three teams of the six would have "home field advantage", that is, their six games against the lesser three teams would always start as a three game set at home. Right now, the Angels are pretty much cruising in the AL West, but it would not be so, knowing they are very much neck and neck with two other teams for one of the top three spots. More intensity pumped into August games.
When September 30th came to pass, the top team winning percentage among the six "first tier" team would go to the World Series. No other "playoffs", no end-the-season-one-day-fly-to-playoff-the-next. A traditional, seven-game World Series, with a couple of days rest after September 30th, beginning October 4th, and ending before (not during) the snow weather back East.
It is highly unlikely that a Trevor Hoffman-like meltdown, a single, one-person event, would send a team to the World Series....
....there would be twenty-nine other games that truly measure.