So Houston is in the American League West. It's been nearly an entire season of this tomfoolery now, and I still can't make sense of this. Why, lords of baseball? Why? So we can have continuous, nonsensical interleague play? So the Tigers can finish the season in Miami? So we can slowly and sneakily phase out the tradition of the pitcher attempting to hit? So the strangely configured six divisions are "fair and even" with five teams each? This is not ok.
I've been thinking about how to fix this dilemma since it was announced Houston would be moving leagues, but really, it's been a long time coming (since 1995 no doubt). The unbalanced (and confusing) schedule... the six divisions... the confusing interleague play and DH scenarios... it's time someone fixed this. And, as Jonah Keri pointed out this morning over on Grantland, change has to come soon. Teams need it.
Here's my solution, in parts.
Part 1: EXPANSION.
Two more teams fixes many problems. 16 team leagues, 8 team divisions. A team in North Carolina makes for an increased presence in the South, a rival for the Braves, and a recognition of the region's population, professional, and financial development. A team in Montreal makes up for the mistake of 1994, returns the Expos to their fanbase, and gives Toronto it's long-lost rival, reigniting baseball in Canada. There are many other good options here, with Portland being my favorite to not make this article, but Charlotte/Durham and Montreal make the most sense to me.
Part 2: MILD REALIGNMENT
Here then would be the new (far more sensical) divisions:
National League East: New York, Philadelphia, Montreal, Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, Atlanta, Washington, Miami.
American League East: New York, Boston, Toronto, Cleveland, Detroit, Carolina, Baltimore, Tampa Bay.
National League West: Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Louis, Houston, San Diego, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Colorado.
American League West: Chicago, Minnesota, Kansas City, Texas, Arizona, Anaheim, Oakland, Seattle.
As you can see from this listing, four 8 team divisions work logically, and inter-league rivalries work naturally. The only stretch is Seattle-Colorado, but the only way to fix Seattle's isolation is a team in Portland, and they're pretty happy with their MLS franchise. Can't see Portland putting up the money for another summer sport any time soon.
Part 3: LOGICAL SCHEDULING
The baseball schedule is confusing to any casual fan. Why are some series 4 games and others 3 (with the occasional 2)? Why do we see Boston play New York 87 times a year? Why is Baltimore playing 20 of the last 21 days of the season, all against division teams, and Detroit is playing flipping Miami?? Now this season, with continual interleague play, it's all the more ridiculous. Taking a note from the NFL (where games are on Sundays, with a few weekly exceptions), here's a new plan.
Each team plays 6 games per week (simple right? two 3 game series?). National League teams get Mondays off (making for a premier Monday Night in the American League weekly broadcast). American League teams get Thursdays off (making for a premier Thursday Night in the National League weekly broadcast).
Each team plays 9 games against every team in the division, 6 games against every team in the opposite division, and 3 games against every team in the opposite league. Intradivision games then total 63 games. Intradivision league games total 48 games. Intraleague games total 48 games. The total is 159 games. Add in an extra 3 games against your interleague rival, taking place every year after the All-Star Game in "Rivalry Week," and we have 162 games.
Here's what the matchups would look like for the St. Louis Cardinals (as an example). 3 games against every team in the AL (the AL East comes to STL one year, STL goes to the AL West, then flip it every other year). One extra 3 game series against the Cardinals' interleague "rival," the Kansas City Royals, alternating home and away every other year. 6 games against every team in the NL East (home and away series of 3 games each). 9 games against NL West teams (2 series home, 1 away, alternating years). The schedule makes sense, can't be considered unfair, and is the same every year. Why not??
Finally, Part 4: THE PLAYOFFS
Four divisions gives each league two division champs, who each get byes. The next four best teams in each league, regardless of division, make the first round of the playoffs, The Wild Card Round. Yes, this is similar to the NFL. It works. Division Champs get home-field for the Divisional Round, then the NLCS and ALCS, then the World Series. Pretty simple. 12 teams make the playoffs.
This scenario doesn't take into consideration the DH, but I'm purposely leaving that out. I love the NL tradition of pitchers batting for all of the strategy that comes into play, but I know many people hate seeing the "automatic out," and I can't imagine a scenario where the MLBPA gives in on eliminating that position. Expansion and Realignment doesn't depend on the DH discussion.
It also doesn't eliminate Interleague play, but it does make it make sense. I'm still not the biggest fan of Interleague, but I realize on that I'm in the very tiny minority, so we'll keep it around and even expand it. The biggest problem, as I see it, is that to the casual fan the scheduling makes no sense. This way, you get to see half the teams one year (one series at home each year), and the rest of the teams the next. When I lived in Seattle, I waited and waited for the Cardinals to visit. In four years, they never did. Maybe have May and August be "Interleague Months" or something (you'd need 8 weeks to fit in all 48 games). Just please, no interleague in September.
This is my best attempt at fixing baseball, something that needs to be done soon (I just can't get over Detroit ending the year in Miami). Feels good to get it all typed out. I'm sure you'll disagree with most of it... let me know in the comments??
A passionate Cardinals fan who moved to Seattle and ended up in Detroit. Go Cardimarigers. -JWakes