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Giving the Phils a Fighting Chance

Last week, Buster Olney on his ESPN Insider blog put forth interesting dilemmas and solutions to the alignment of divisions.  Basically, arguing from the perspective of the Tampa Bay Devil Rays (or Rays as I guess they’re now know) he said that teams without solidified rivalries should switch divisions every year.  This would not only give teams like the Rays a chance to play out of the shadows of the Red Sox and Yankees but also on balance allow all teams to compete regularly in a 4 team division.  Olney likened the prospects of having a 20% chance to win the division versus a 25% chance to constantly starting out with a king against somebody else’s ace in poker.  For instance the AL would look like this:

In 2007:
AL East: Boston, Baltimore, N.Y. Yankees, Toronto, Detroit
AL Central: Chicago, Minnesota, Cleveland, Tampa Bay
AL West: Oakland, L.A. Angels, Seattle, Texas, Kansas City

In 2008:
AL East: Boston, Baltimore, N.Y. Yankees, Toronto
AL Central: Chicago, Minnesota, Cleveland, Tampa Bay, Detroit
AL West: Oakland, L.A. Angels, Seattle, Texas, Kansas City

In 2009:
AL East: Boston, Baltimore, N.Y. Yankees, Tampa Bay, Toronto
AL Central: Chicago, Minnesota, Cleveland, Texas, Kansas City
AL West: Oakland, L.A. Angels, Seattle, Detroit

Now of course this alignment is open to a whole range of issues, not the least of which include developing rivalries, travel costs, and scheduling.  It would help create a bit of parity within divisions in that they are constantly changing.  However, Olney also expressed an alternate proposal which I have to say has its merits.  It would involve going back to the old pre-1969 standard, without divisions. Stack all 14 AL teams and all 16 NL teams in the same league table, and have a league champion and three wild-card teams advance to the postseason.  Now if this was in place last season, the Padres would not have made the playoffs and instead the Phillies would have been the fourth team in.

Now maybe I’m just used to reading soccer standings which list all 20-30 teams together, but I do like this idea for baseball.  This is essentially how basketball and hockey allocate playoff spots – using the conference as the point of reference.  Though a bit radical for the Selig administration, if it means the barely-above .500 Padres would be replaced by the Phils, I certainly can’t argue with that.

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