NEW YORK — With less than a month to go before Opening Day, baseball at last decided who’s in and who’s out come October.
Now, even a third-place team can win the World Series.
Major League Baseball made it official Friday, expanding the playoff format to 10 teams by adding a wild-card club for each league.
Boston and Atlanta could’ve used this setup last year. They went through awful collapses in September that eventually cost them playoff spots on the final day of the season.
“I think the more, the merrier,” new Red Sox manager Bobby Valentine said.
This is the first switch in MLB’s postseason format since the 1995 season, when wild cards were first added.
The move creates a one-game wild-card round in the AL and NL between the teams with the best records who are not division winners.
“It’s a good thing for baseball. That seems to be what the people want,” Detroit manager Jim Leyland said.
“This change increases the rewards of a division championship and allows two additional markets to experience playoff baseball each year,” Commissioner Bud Selig said in a statement.
For the 2012 postseason, the five-game division series will begin with two home games for lower seeds, followed by home games for the higher seed. After that, it will return to the 2-2-1 format previously used.
MLB said that with schedules already drawn for this season, the postseason had to be compressed to fit in the extra games. Hence, fewer off-days for travel.
“I don’t think it really changes the way you look at this season. You really have to fight to win your division,” Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. “It is kind of strange to start on the road. That doesn’t quite seem right, but it’s a one-year thing. I understand why they’re doing it.”
If the World Series goes to Game 7 this year – as it did last season – it would be played Nov. 1.
Baseball players’ union head Michael Weiner said there had been internal discussions about possibly having six playoff teams from each league. He said that once bargaining began with owners on a new labor deal, it was clear MLB only wanted five.
He said the players wanted to put more emphasis on winning a division, especially when MLB goes to a pair of 15-team leagues next year with three divisions each.