McCarthy: MLB should eliminate divisions and alter the playoff format

By Matt McCarthy, 985TheSportsHub.com

Major League Baseball has struck gold with the implementation of the second Wild Card, creating two must-watch do-or-die games to begin the playoffs every October.

There's a lesson to be learned here: sometimes change is good, even in a sport that relies as much on tradition as baseball does.

Some change is needed to make baseball better, not only in October, but perhaps more importantly in the regular season. MLB should strive to add more urgency to the game by creating more elimination games while adding additional importance to the regular season.

This is possible without making radical change or adding too many teams to baseball's appropriately small postseason. There are two decisions baseball can make to improve their regular season and postseason product in a big way.

Step 1: Eliminate divisions

Divisions are absolutely worthless and are hurting the sport.

There was only one legitimate division race in baseball this year: the NL Central race between the Cardinals and Brewers. No other division was remotely competitive. Of the eight teams that made the LDS, five of them (the Yankees, Astros, Twins, Braves, and Dodgers) cruised to October with little resistance.

This is totally unacceptable for a sport that plays a 162-game regular season.

Six months of play has been rendered almost entirely meaningless for the vast majority of teams in the game, whether they are runaway playoff teams or aren't in contention for October. Baseball needs to find a way to make the regular season more competitive for teams at the top of the league and in the middle of the league.

Simply put: baseball's attempt to place additional importance on the divisions with the implementation of the second Wild Card has failed. It seems like there are fewer competitive divisions than ever before.

It's time for a major change. The divisions need to be abolished.

MLB should return to the original American League and National League format, before breaking down into division play in 1969. This would give baseball an opportunity to reformat October in a meaningful way.

Step 2: Implement a 6-team, seeded playoff field

Under this proposal, the teams with the top two records in the American and National Leagues would automatically advance to the LDS. Seeds 3-6 would then play in one-game playoff games to move on to the LDS.

This would create maximum competition in the regular season while doubling the number of do-or-die games played under the current format. Baseball needs more urgency across the board and this format would create that.

For example, this year the Yankees edged the Twins by just two games for the second-best record in the American League. In 2018, the Astros beat the Yankees for the second-best record in the American League by just three games.

But none of that mattered. All of those teams were locked into their respective spots in the playoffs so the end of the season was irrelevant. Why shouldn't every team be forced to compete for all-important playoff seeding?

Having one of the two best records in your league should matter. It really doesn't under the current format.

Why wouldn't this work?

Because baseball is terrified of change, but of course this would work.

The players union might object to eliminating divisions due to travel concerns, but MLB could easily address that by simply implementing a scheduling formula based on geography.

The Red Sox can still play the Yankees 19 times a year and make only one or two trips to play the American League West teams. The schedule doesn't have to be balanced if travel is that much of an issue.

More competition, more urgency, more play-in games.

Who says no?

You can hear Matt McCarthy on 98.5 The Sports Hub's own Hardcore Baseball podcast and on various 98.5 The Sports Hub programs. Follow him on Twitter @MattMcCarthy985.