x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

MLB realignment in the works

One idea gaining steam is doing away with the three divisions and moving one National League team to the American.

Major League Baseball and its Players Association are discussing a significant realignment that would have major implications with scheduling, league formats and the post-season.

Sources say one plan gaining momentum is to create two 15-team leagues, eliminate the current three-division format, return to a balanced schedule and expand the play-off format.

"I don't know if it's going to happen," said the source with knowledge of the talks. "But it seems to be getting support from a lot of different people."

The realignment, which would be the most significant since 1994, when both leagues divided into three divisions and added a wild-card team to the play-offs, would require one team from the National League to shift to the American League, solving the current uneven split; the NL has 16 teams, the AL 14.

Instead of the three-division set-up, the leagues would have traditional standings - as they did prior to 1969 - ranked from first to 15, with the top-five teams qualifying for the post-season. It would also eliminate the current unbalanced schedule by which teams play nearly half of their games against division rivals and, instead, have teams playing the other 14 clubs in their own league the same number of times.

Eliminating the divisions and unbalanced schedules would be a boon for small- and medium-market clubs now handicapped by playing superpowers twice as often as other teams. A team such as Baltimore, for instance, now plays almost 60 games against the Boston Red Sox, New York Yankees and Tampa Bay Rays - arguably the three best teams in the game.

Under this proposal, the Orioles would play those teams no more than, say, the Kansas City Royals or Cleveland Indians, theoretically improving their chances of reaching the post-season.

There are obstacles, of course. One would be the need to have an interleague game every day of the season, because of the uneven number of teams within each league. Such a change threatens to water down the idea of interleague play, which is currently limited to two stretches - one in late May and the other in late June and into early July.

Also, the game would risk losing some of its better rivalries. The Yankees and Red Sox, or Chicago Cubs and St Louis Cardinals, would play only 10 or so times, rather than the current 18 or 19.

But the result would be a more equitable schedule for all.

Finally, there is the matter of how to handle two new wild-card entries.

There is much work to be done before this could be implemented, but the amount of progress made already suggests that big changes are coming soon.

sports@thenational.ae