Like Randy did yesterday, I’ll start by checking in with you. I hope, as everyone here does, that you’re doing well and staying safe and healthy–physically and mentally. With that said, we still have no real baseball to keep us warm, so let’s dive into some fantasy ideas about the game, shall we? Today, I’ll focus on realignment.
I’ll start off by saying that I doubt any of this ever really comes to fruition. MLB–and baseball in general, really–is inherently conservative and slow to change in big, structural ways, so these things are likely way too out there. One thing that does seem close, though, is the universal DH, so for this mental exercise, let’s just assume the DH is now universal (as it should be).
Back to the Future
This is the simplest, least disruptive one I can think of. It’s one I mentioned on the most recent episode of our podcast: eliminate divisions, and balance the schedule. The top four teams in each league then make the playoffs. If you want to also eliminate in-season interleague play (which I’m not sure many would want to with a universal DH), move one of Houston or Milwaukee back to their original league. This makes competition a little more fair and equitable, with everyone playing (as much as possible) the exact same schedule. This doesn’t allow, for example, the Yankees and Astros to pad their win totals against the Orioles and Mariners as much as they used to. It does curtail big division rivalries–Yankees/Red Sox, Dodgers/Giants, Cubs/Cardinals–since those teams would see each other less. However, wouldn’t those matchups be all the more special and important due to the rarity?
Let’s say you want to change things up fundamentally, like eliminate the AL/NL divide and expand the playoffs, but still keep the division structure. Let’s break the league down into two conferences–east and west–with three divisions each, much like the NBA or NHL.
What would the divisions look like? Eastern is the first three, Western is the second.
Northeast: Yankees, Mets, Red Sox, Phillies, Blue Jays
Southeast: Rays, Atlanta, Orioles, Nationals, Marlins
North: Twins, Brewers, Tigers, Cubs, White Sox
Midwest: Cleveland, Cardinals, Royals, Reds, Pirates
Southwest: Astros, Rockies, Rangers, Padres, Diamondbacks
West: Angels, Dodgers, Mariners, Giants, A’s.
The playoffs could stay the same as they are now–three division winners, two wild cards–just with different matchups. In this fantasy scenario, I’d like to see the WC game expanded to a different format–a three game series (all in the stadium of the first WC winner), perhaps, or the ‘second wild card has to win two games, first wild card only has to win one’ plan.
The EPL Model, with an American Twist
Last but not least, let’s throw caution to the wind and eliminate the two league structure altogether. All 30 teams are in one league now–Major League Baseball!–and there’s a balanced schedule. The top eight teams make the playoffs and do the tournament that way. If that were the case, last year’s matchups (with a grain of salt for the schedule, obviously) would’ve been
Astros vs. Cleveland/Nationals
Dodgers vs. Cleveland/Nationals
Yankees vs. Rays
Twins vs. Atlanta
That would be pretty cool, no?
In any event, I don’t expect any of this to happen any time soon. But, MLB might want to consider shaking things up when baseball returns. They probably can’t do that for the 2002 season (if it even happens), but they can use this year as an excuse to reset things, to try new things, to alter the way they think and do things to try and get new fans or rekindle interest in the sport.