You see the title of the article…yeah, I said it! 2012 brought a new playoff format with the addition of a second wild card team. Because that initiative was rushed through late last year and the actual schedule was already set for these playoffs, they had to tinker with the home dates to in theory cut down on the amount of travel. As a result, the winner of the wild card games got to open the ALDS with two home games before the series’ shifted to the division winner’s city for the final three. Many people – myself included – felt that wasn’t exactly fair, however did that potentially hurt the Baltimore Orioles (a wild card team) as well?
Previously the format of these five game series’ was 2-2-1, with the higher seed getting the first two home games. The series would then shift to the lower seed’s home park, and if a fifth game was necessary they’d go back to the higher seed’s park. This will be the case again starting next year as they’ll further refine the system and set the dates properly. (I might recommend removing the travel days all together. Teams routinely travel immediately following games during the regular season, so it’s something they’re used to. Both the Orioles and Yankees left Baltimore for New York immediately following game two of the ALDS.) However let’s assume for a moment that the games played out pretty much as they did last week, however using the old 2-2-1 format…
…games one and two would have been in NY. Again all things being pretty much the same, New York would have won game one 3-2 because Russell Martin’s homer in the 9th would have been a walk off. Work with me a bit here folks; this is kind of an alternative reality kind of thing; all things being the same, the Orioles would have won game two and the series would have shifted to Baltimore at 1-1. In reality, New York won game three on a Raul Ibanez homer. However that was a walk off home run since New York was the home team. Had they used the old format, the Orioles would have had a last at-bat and possibly could have either tied the game or won it. Once again all things being for the most part the same, J.J. Hardy’s RBI-double in game four would have been a walk off play. That would have won the series for the Orioles!
These scenarios are all assuming a lot, especially the part about the Orioles having a last at-bat and winning game three after the Ibanez home run. With how both teams hit in that series, odds are the Orioles would have gone 1-2-3 in the last of the inning (with guys swinging at balls in the dirt). However the point is that there would have been a chance something could have happened. That’s a lot different than Ibanez’s homer ending the game. Obviously had the Orioles had the last at-bat and gone 1-2-3, the series would have gone back to New York for game five anyways.
Again, a lot of people thought that it was unfair for a team with a better record to have to play the first two games on the road. You can count me in that camp because while home field advantage certainly means more in a sport like football, there’s always something to be said for playing at home. In my opinion while the fans can certainly make a difference in all sports, the biggest home field advantage in baseball is that last at-bat (especially in the playoffs when most of the games are close). Again, next season they’ll go back to the old 2-2-1 format with the wild card game winner having to go to the higher seed’s home park for two games. Many people aren’t fans of the second wild card, however I like it. There are so many teams that have superior seasons but can’t get into the playoffs because someone else won 95 games and they only won 94. However I also think that the “automatic elimination games” right off the bat add some drama to the postseason right away. It certainly did this year at least!