Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Reds will start playoffs on road despite having better record

The Cincinnati Reds will enter the 2012 postseason with at least one of the two best records in the National League, and may even boast the best record in the league depending on how the last series of the year goes. By having one of the top two records in the league, they have ensured themselves home-field advantage for the Division Series. Or have they really? Does having home-field advantage for the NLDS truly give the higher seed a leg up in this instance? I say no.

Major League Baseball announced some major changes to the postseason structure prior to the year. First, they approved an expansion of one Wild Card team per league as well as a new one-game play-in round that pits the two Wild Cards winners against each other for the right to play the No. 1 seed in their respective league. I have no problem with this revision. In fact, I actually think it's a move that was long overdue.

What I do have a problem with, however, is the new 2-3 format that MLB adopted for the Division Series. The new format begins with two home games for lower seeds, followed by up to three games for higher seeds. I strongly oppose this setup for many reasons. Since the NLDS and ALDS are best-of-five series', it's possible that the higher seed may find itself in an 0-2 series hole before they even get a chance to play at home. That's neither fair nor logical. This format clearly diminishes the equity built by teams with better records throughout the season, in my opinon, and levels the playing field for the lower seeds.

Do you remember 2010? Do you remember how the Reds found themselves in an 0-2 hole after playing the first two games in Philadelphia? I sure do. And I also recall feeling that the Reds had no chance at winning that series once they got down 0-2. That was a great advantage the Phillies enjoyed two years ago, but one that Cincinnati will not get to indulge in this time around.

As a No. 1 or No. 2 seed, the Reds will automatically begin their playoff push to the World Series on an opponent's home turf. That much is certain. The only thing that remains to be determined is where that place will be. If the Nationals end up with an identical or better record, Dusty Baker's team will begin the postseason on the West Coast - three time zones away - in San Francisco against the NL West Champion Giants. If they should end up with a better record than the Nats, however, they'll start Game One of the NLDS in either Atlanta or most likely St. Louis.

Now I'm not saying the Reds can't win the series without starting it at Great American Ball Park, but what I am saying is that it will be more difficult than it should be. They will have to avoid getting down 0-2 at all costs, or they will face a scenario with which they will have to win three straight games to avoid being eliminated. That's not exactly a scenario you want to find yourself in, nor is it a scenario that a team who performed better over the regular season (record-wise) should have to be in.

Jayson Stark of ESPN.com saw this potential dilemma way back in March when he stated the following in his column:

"Meanwhile, say the Reds win 103 games and take the No. 1 seed. Their "reward" would be to go almost two weeks without a home game. They'd finish the regular season in Pittsburgh and St. Louis. Then they'd be forced to open the postseason with two games [on the road]. And we're guessing they wouldn't be real happy about it."

Yeah, I doubt the NL Central Champs are too excited about playing games one and two on the road either.

MLB should strongly consider reverting back to the old 2-2-1 format beginning in 2013 and beyond. Travel schedules should not trump the resumes that teams have built over a 162-game campaign. The higher seeds deserve to enjoy a true home-field advantage, not a distorted one.

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