Winning the division has always mattered. It guarantees you a playoff spot and HFA at least over the WC. But if that was really the primary concern, there are solutions that are far more logical than this abortion of a playoff system. When was the last time that a non-football playoff series was one game?
First of all, HFA is hardly much of an advantage in baseball. Not for being the better team over a 162 game period.
People are quick to point out that winning your division in basketball, football or hockey isn't as emphasized. So why should baseball give such a holy place to division winners?
Well, baseball is a 162 game season. In football, you have 16 games. It's hard to lock up a division with 3 or 4 games left, and so the race is usually on till about the last to second last week.
Basketball's regular season has always been a joke. If you're not the fan of a team that's on the playoff fringe, then you know your team will be in the playoffs and the whole "each game matters" thing is obsolete. Even in a shortened season, the top 6 teams in the West were pretty much a given for the playoffs. For the best part of a decade, you've had the Spurs literally treating the regular season like extended practice.
I'm pretty sure no one thinks either football or basketball are applicable templates for baseball.
This system isn't perfect, but it's pretty darn close. What you have with it is:
- Legitimate, old school division races. Over 162 games, every game matters. Every game a team loses, every game they let get away could end up contributing to the difference between the team's record and that of the division winner. There's no coasting, no conceding. EVERY game matters. NO ONE wants their season to have to come down to a one-game playoff.
- Teams who previously never had a chance now do. It's easy to think about this through the lens of a high payroll team fan. Not every team is the Red Sox or Yankees. For fans of small market teams, the regular season is now somewhat more relevant. Now, in a few years, when their pitching gets too expensive to keep, the Rays won't be relegated back to the outside looking in. The Brewers, the A's, the Orioles, etc. etc
This would be a horrible system if it were a 3 game playoff series. Why? Because then winning the division isn't as big a deal. Just coast, grab the 1st WC seed and you can beat the 2nd WC.
But 1 game? Nope. No team wants a part of that if they can avoid it in any way. Anything happens in one game, the better team isn't necessarily going through.
I can understand though why people on this board would be livid with this. For no team is this worse than the Red Sox. With the Yankees and their payroll to compete with, in some years, the Sox will have to play a 1 game playoff despite being perhaps the 2nd best team in all of baseball. But, on the flip side, now the BOS-NYY rivalry actually matters in the regular season. Once the Rays fade, it won't be a matter of these two teams just playing out the season as they wait for the playoffs. Every game between them may now be the difference between making the playoffs as the division winner or having to play an absolute roulette of a round.
It's just a matter of perspective.
If you want absolute fairness, go the EPL system, crown the winner after the regular season after everyone plays a balanced schedule. Something tells me that ain't happening anytime soon.
But if you want a system in which more fans are engaged for deeper into the season, this is it. The only fans for which this sucks is the first or second WC who isn't good enough to win the division and isn't in danger of falling out of either WC spots.
Unfortunately, in some years, that will be the Sox. Like I said, it sucks most for the Sox and you guys are probably the only fans with legitimate claim to be upset. That doesn't make it a bad system though.