Pennant Race Baseball–2011

The 2011 Pennant Race Baseball season is upon us.  As in the past, we will be following it game by game.  Standings and results will appear daily in the Pennant Race Gazettes.  For those who are not familiar with how it works, I’ll give a brief account of what the set-up is.

There are no wild cards in the Pennant Race League.  The “Wild Card League”  has wild card competiton as a major ingredient of regular and post-seasons.  As a matter of fact, the wild card and three divisions per league was primarily created so there could be an extra ”tier” of playoffs:   Division Series;  Championship Series; and World Series.  The general effect of the wild cards, three divisions, and Division Series has been negative. 

This is true because these components have had an adverse affect on Major League Baseball’s(MLB) two biggest assets:  Season long pennant races; and a post -season which focuses attention on the World Series.  And now the Commissioner is talking about expanding baseball’s post-season, because the orginal wild card was a good idea?  Has anybody noticed what has been happening to baseball’s regular and post season ratings. (Check out:  “Division Series or “Killing the Goose”;  Division Series or ‘Killing the Goose’-Update”;  and “Wild Card,  League Division Series, and MLB’s Postseason”  found here under “Commentary”.)  We’re told that ratings don’t count.  But this reminds me of a famous line from The Wizard of Oz:  “Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain”.  Of course, everybody knew how important it was, and is, to always pay attention to the men behind the curtain.

I have been studying the effects of the wild card system on MLB for many years; and I have divised a way to reveal and experience the “hidden” pennant races that play themselves out during baseball’s long 162 game schedule.  With this new set-up, the American League is no longer divided into three divisions.  There are now two division:  one with 8 teams; and one with 6. Two Divisions, without a need for a wild card winner, are better suited to produce pennant races.  Wild cards just muddy up the water.  The same is true in the National League, where there are two divisions of 8 teams each. 

By having two divisions instead of three (and no wild card), the Division Series is eliminated.  Both regular seasons and post-season are strengthened.  This is true because: season long pennant races are stronger than wild card races;  pennant races in September are better than Division Series for end-of-season action;  and an uncluttered October puts fan attention where it belongs—on the World Series.

To replace the wild card competition, I’ve substituted a new “Tier” system.  Pennant races are aided by having teams play as many games as possible against Division rivals (Teams competing for the same “Division Pennant”).  Tier play provides season variety; and an extra incentive for season-long team competition and fan interest.  This is true because part of a team’s season schedule is determined by how high or low  they finish in the previous  year’s Division standings. 

 In the American League, the 4 teams that finish in the 1st Tier in the East play the 3 teams that finish is the 1st Tier of the West.  The same is true of the teams that finish in the 2nd Tier of the American League East and West.  This also applies in the National League, where the top 4 teams in each Division play each other; while the same is true of the bottom 4.

Let’s look at last year’s Final Standings so we can get a clearer picture of this new set-up.

Final Pennant Race Baseball Standings-2010

American League

East                              W      L        GB

  1. Tampa Bay        70    44      —
  2. New York           63     51        7
  3. Boston                60     50       8
  4. Toronto               60    54      10
  5. Cleveland            45    51       16
  6. Kansas City         41    48       16 1/2
  7. Detroit                 42    51       17 1/2
  8. Baltimore             40   72       29

West                                W       L         GB

  1. Minnesota            46      31        —
  2. Texas                   53      47          4 1/2
  3. Oakland               52       47         5
  4. Los Angeles         49       48          7
  5. Chicago                40      40          7 1/2
  6. Seattle                  38      63        20

National League

East                                   W        L          GB

  1. Philadelphia           68     48          —
  2. Atlanta                    62    54              6
  3. Cincinnati                47    40              6 1/2
  4. Florida                     59     57              9
  5. Houston                  41     47           13
  6. Washington             53     64           15 1/2
  7. New York                 52     63           15 1/2
  8. Pittsburgh                29     62           26 1/2

West                                   W       L            GB

  1. San Francisco          66     50           —
  2. San Diego                 67    51            —
  3. St. Louis                    47   42               5 1/2
  4. Los Angeles              60   56               6
  5. Chicago                     52   49               6 1/2
  6. Colorado                    60   57               6 1/2
  7. Milwaukee                 46   44                7
  8. Arizona                      47   47             20 1/2

  The 1st Tier in the AL East is:  Tampa Bay;  New York Yankees;  Boston; and Toronto.  This year they only play the teams that finished in the AL West’s 1st Tier, which is:  Minnesota;  Texas;  and Oakland.  The 2nd Tier in the AL East is:  Cleveland;  Kansas City;  Detroit;  and Baltimore.  They will play the teams that finished in the 2nd Tier of the AL West:  Los Angles Angels;  Chicago White Sox;  Seattle.

The 1st Tier finishers in the NL East were:  Philadelphia;  Atlanta;  Cincinnati;  and Florida.  They will only play the 1st Tier teams from the NL West that included:  San Francisco;  San Diego;  St. Louis; and Los Angeles Dodgers.  Just as in the American League; the 2nd Tier teams in the NL East play only the 2nd Tier teams in the NL West.  That would be:  NL East:  Houston;  Washington;  New York Mets;  and Pittsburgh;  and the NL West:  Chicago Cubs;  Colorado;  Milwaukee;  and Arizona.

You’ll notice that the standing do not reflect a 162 game season.  This is because I don’t make MLB’s schedule.  Theirs is determined by the fact that there are 3 rather than 2 divisions per league,  wild card competition;  and even Interleague play (BTW this is another weakness in MLB’s current structure.  Interleague games are not played between rivals for the same  Division Pennant,  nor does it include competition between rivals for the same Wild Card.  Therefore, Interleague play is nothing more than  a glorified Exhibition Games).  Pennant Race Baseball’s schedule is made up of all the games played between Division rivals and 6 games each played against Tier rivals.  All other games are not counted (This is reflected in each day’s Pennant Race Gazette, as all MLB results are listed.  Games not counting in Pennant Race Baseball’s standings are crossed out).

If I were named Commissioner of Baseball (Ha!!Ha!!), I would work with the owners and players union (I would also figure out a way to bring fan’s in on the conversation), to make some changes.  The first thing I would suggest is that MLB eliminate the wild card and Division Series.  I would further suggest it be replaced with the 2 Division per League,  plus “Tier” structures, described above.  Furthermore,  to even things out, I would suggest that MLB expand one final time to cities that could be placed in the AL and NL East.  This would balance out the league; with one team going from the NL West to AL West (Arizona?).   Discusses of this new MLB set-up is welcomed.

 MLB would end up with 4/8 team divisions.  The schedules would look like this:  Each team in a Division would play the 7 teams in their Division a total of 18 times, for a total of 126 games.  The other games would be made up by having each Tier rival play each other 9 times.  4×9=39;  126+39=162.  The regular season would not be contracted; and with the elimnation of the Division Series, the regular season would not need to start in March;  nor extend into November. 

 Real pennant races in September will more than substitute for the Division Series as they peak both fan and media mogul interest.  After exciting pennant races in 4 Divisions, fans will be ready immediately for the great competition that will occur in the Championship Series and revived World Series. Last years ALCS would have been between Tampa Bay and Minnesota;  the  NLCS  would have matched up Philadelphia and San Francisco.  How could we go wrong?

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