It is Oct. 1, the final Saturday of Major League Baseball's regular season. The Phillies and Astros both clinched Wild Card spots earlier in the week and are now destined for a one-game playoff in four days. But with two games remaining, the site of that one-game playoff depends on what happens today and tomorrow. The Astros' rotation calls for aces Roger Clemens and Roy Oswalt to close out the regular season, while the Phillies have their two most productive starters ready to go. Houston leads Philadelphia by one game in the standings, which means today and tomorrow will decide which team hosts the one-game playoff.
You are Charlie Manuel or Phil Garner.
What do you do? If you are Garner, do you choose to throw Clemens on Saturday in hopes of locking up homefield advantage, or do you save him for the one-game playoff? If you are Manuel, do you give up on homefield advantage and get your pitching ready? Do you hold off on Myers, who has the best shot at going toe-to-toe with Clemens or Oswalt? Do you rest Ugueth Urbina, who has pitched in four of the last five games?
In Major League Baseball's new playoff format, announced today as part of the sport's new Collective Bargaining Agreement, both Manuel and Garner would have confronted the aforementioned situations during the final weekend of the 2005 season. Under the old system, they were fighting each other for a playoff spot, which led to some intense drama as both teams won their last two games of the season, landing the Astros in the postseason and the Phillies on the golf course. Opponents of the new system, which will start either this season or in 2013, decry the potential loss of such late-season races. But the addition of a second wild card team to each league, which raises the number of participants to five in each, will certainly create some interesting talk show fodder.
The Phillies, in case you were wondering, would have qualified for the playoffs in 2005 and 2006 under the new system. Today, they have reached a point where they expect to be there regardless of the number of teams who qualify. Still, from the Phillies perspective, the new postseason format is the most interesting part of the new CBA.
The format would seem to reward a team like Manuel's 2011 squad, which led the majors with a 102-60 record. This year, they likely would have been able to sit back and watch wild card teams Atlanta and St. Louis engage in a one-game win-or-go-home battle. Would that have helped them beat the Cardinals? Would they have even played the Cardinals? The old rules prevented division opponents from facing each other in the first round. That is no longer the case. If the Braves had won, they would have faced the Phillies in a five-game series despite having hosted them in a three-game series to end the regular season.
How much impact will this have?
The Phillies would have snapped their playoff drought in 2005, facing Houston in a one-game playoff to move on. In 2006, they would have faced the Dodgers in a one-game playoff as the second Wild Card.
Assuming the top seed gets to face the winner of the one-game playoff, the Phillies would have squared off against the Dodgers in the first round of the 2008 postseason, with the Brewers and Mets playing in a one-game playoff for the right to face the Cubs.
Sure, you wouldn't have Matt Stairs at Dodger Stadium. But who knows what kind of drama you would have?