New Playoff Format Makes AL East Race Most Exciting In Years

By Aidan Kearney
Mark L. Baer – USA TODAY Sports

Whatever the outcome of tonight’s Boston Red Sox series finale with the Tampa Bay Rays, one thing we know for sure is that it’s going to be an awesome final two months. The new playoff format particularly has made every game against the Rays and Baltimore Orioles must see TV.

As much as I hate to admit it, the new playoff format actually makes MLB better. I fought this one for a while on the Felger and Mazz show in Boston. I insisted that having two wild card teams meet in a one game playoff was absurdly unfair. I pointed out how for instance the 2002 Los Angeles Angels finished seven games in front of the Red Sox that year.

I pointed out how it wouldn’t be fair to the Angels to have to go against Pedro Martinez in a one game series to get into the postseason since the Angels had a much better regular season and deserved it more than the Red Sox. It didn’t seem fair that a team with the second best record in their league wouldn’t make the playoffs because they happened to play in the same division as Billy Beane’s 103 win “Moneyball” team.

This year I have been proven wrong. I find myself more invested in every game now that winning the AL East is so important. Suppose the Orioles end up winning the AL East and Boston and Tampa have the next best records. After last night’s 97-pitch, four hit masterpiece by David Price, I have no desire to be in a one game playoff against the Rays. The Red Sox must win the division and every game counts.

To understand how much better this new format is, let’s look at 2008. The Red Sox lost the division by two games that year to Tampa. The final month of the season was fairly boring. It didn’t really matter who won the division, since both teams were getting into the playoffs regardless. The Red Sox won the wild card by eight games that year, so they had no reason to fight for the division title.

In 2007 the Red Sox won the AL East by two games over the New York Yankees, who won the wild card. I don’t even remember that being a pennant chase. I just remember knowing by July that Boston and New York were both getting into the playoffs. It didn’t matter who won the division. Had the second wild card existed in 2007, the second place AL East finisher would’ve had a one game play-in game against Justin Verlander and the Detroit Tigers. That would’ve made things a lot more interesting.

So, I’m really enjoying this new format. We haven’t had a good ole fashioned pennant chase around here in a while since the wild card always seems to come from the AL East. First place is on the line in Fenway Park tonight as John Lackey takes the mound against the Rays. I can’t wait to watch this finale, followed by a weekend with Orioles. Summer baseball is back.

Follow Aidan Kearney on Facebook @Aidan FromWorcester and on Twitter @aidanfromworc

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