As we know, Major League Baseball’s playoff format will be altered for the 2012 season. Five clubs will make the playoffs in each league, with two being Wild Card teams. The two Wild Card teams will play each other for the right to face the highest seeded division champion in the Division Series. Unlike in the past, teams in the same division can play in the Division Series. A change made for scheduling reasons, only for this year, has the winning wild card team playing its first two games at home, before traveling to the division champions city for potentially three straight games. Naturally, this format places a greater incentive on winning the division since a team can start the playoffs rested and with their ace on the mound instead of having to dig through the middle of its rotation to face an opponent with a superior record.
With respect to the Miami Marlins, this new format has its advantages and disadvantages.
As we know, the franchise won its two World Series titles as the beneficiary of being the wild card team in 1997 and 2003. There is no doubt the presence of two wild cards provides a team a better chance of earning a spot in the postseason. However, since the play-in game essentially forces a team to play its ace pitcher, then immediately face the league’s best team, the chances for a wild card team having sustained playoff success decreases significantly. I project that the Marlins will win between 85 and 90 games this year. In theory this would put Miami in position to earn one of the wild card berths. To continue to the division series the Marlins would pitch Josh Johnson versus the other wild card. Due to having limited travel days, if the wild card game is won, pitching JJ will only be feasible once during the division series. The team would then throw a combination of Mark Buehrle, Anibal Sanchez ,Ricky Nolasco or Carlos Zambrano plus one game of Johnson throughout the next series. While this is a quality rotation, it is debatable whether it has what it takes to move on in the playoffs as they are currently formatted.
As such, this scenario shows that the new playoff format puts a much greater emphasis on winning the division. This was exactly the intent of implementing the new format. This demonstrates that the Marlins,in order to maximize their potential playoff chances, need to win the division. Unlike past years, where the division champion and wild card team were essentially treated as equals, it will be much more difficult to win a championship as a Wild Card team. While I believe Major League Baseball did make the right decision with respect to this, the Marlins in the inaugural season at their new ballpark cannot afford to settle for making the playoffs as the wild card. The goal should not be to just make the playoffs. Miami should attempt to win the division at all costs to increase the likelihood of winning a World Series title.