If the Season Ended Today

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As hopefully all baseball fans know at this point, a brand new playoff system will be unveiled for the 2012 season. Instead of seeing four playoff teams from each league, we will now see five due to a second wild card team added to the mix. These two teams, of course, go on to battle it out in a one-game series, and the winner then goes on to play the team with the best overall record. It is no longer a rule that the wild card winner cannot play a team in its own division in the first round, so bear that in mind as I put together this imaginary little situation.

By the time my next feature goes up for Call to the Pen, the second half of the season will be officially underway, so I don’t have the luxury of working with the standings at a nice clean point. We’re only a few days away from that point, however, and the standings won’t change much in that time period, so suspend your disbelief a little and pretend with me that the 2012 season is over right now. For whatever reason, Bud Selig has decided that’s just it, that the second half will not be played. How would the playoff picture shape up at this point? Now, I checked the updated MLB playoff scheduling rules before writing this, but admittedly the system is still a little fuzzy to me, so if I make any errors, just suspend your disbelief a little more and move on with your life. One final note: not all teams have played the same number of games, so in odd cases, I’ll just use win percentage to determine the winner.

So here are your 2012 playoff teams. In the American League, the division winners are pretty clear cut, and they each have enough of a gap that it’s not difficult to envision them being the actual division winners when the season really ends: the Yankees take the East (shocking), the White Sox win the Central, and the Rangers (again, really surprising) stake a claim on the West. The two wild card slots are a pretty clear cut case as well, as the Angels and Orioles have a solid lead over teams like the Rays and Indians. Picking the number one seed is a little tricky, since the Rangers and Yankees have the same number of wins. It’s obviously unfair to penalize Texas for having played two additional games, but that’s not my problem here. If Commissioner Selig hadn’t decided to end the season at such an arbitrary point, we wouldn’t have this issue. Anyway, the two extra games were both losses, and therefore the Yankees claim the number one seed by winning percentage.

The National League is a bit tighter, and a bit worse. The only team more than 10 games over .500 is the Nationals, who easily take the East and the top seed in the league in one fell swoop. The Pirates hold off the Reds by one game to claim the Central, and thanks an extra game played that resulted in a win (I know, I know), the Dodgers get the West. That leaves the Giants and Reds with the two wild card positions, although it’s certainly easy to see those two actually leading their respective divisions by the time the first half actually ends.

Now you have the format. The Angels would face off against the Orioles in a one-game playoff in the AL, the winner of which would go on to battle the Yankees in a best of five division series. That would leave the Rangers and White Sox as the other ALDS match-up. In the National League, the Giants and Reds would be the teams squaring off for a one-game playoff, and the winner would take on the Nationals, leaving the Dodgers and Pirates to go at it in the other series. So what about the results? I can’t go out of my way to end the season on a premature, random note without theorizing how it would all turn out, right?

Well, obviously anything can happen in one-game playoffs, but I’d project the true talent of the Angels to outshine the inferior Orioles in the AL match-up. By the time the real one-game playoff happens, the Orioles will be well out of the picture, and the Angels will be playing some other (much better) AL East team, but no matter. For this purpose, the Halos would smash the O’s and then go on to upset the Yankees in five due to having the strong front three of Jered Weaver, Dan Haren, and C.J. Wilson. As for the other series, the Rangers would prove too much for the White Sox and take that one in four. In the ALDS, the Angels would put up a solid fight, but ultimately they can’t compete with the well-stacked Ranger offense, and the rotation is just that much tougher since they probably went ahead and traded for Zack Greinke or something. Rangers in six, and it’s back to the World Series for the third straight season.

In the bad league, Matt Cain would throw another no-hitter (the Reds are good at getting no-hit in playoff games, after all) to lead his team past Cincinnati, but Stephen Strasburg would then counter with two no-hitters of his own in the next series, and the Nats would outlast the Giants in the full five games. The Dodgers-Pirates series, otherwise known as the match-up of the two worst playoff teams ever, would also go the full five due to neither team being good at baseball. Two of the game’s top center fielders (Matt Kemp and Andrew McCutchen) would steal the show and hit a combined eight home runs in the five games. I see this one ending in dramatic fashion, perhaps a walk-off hit in the bottom of the ninth off the bat of someone dumb, like Alex Presley or something. Remember, the Pirates edged out the Dodgers by one point in winning percentage, so they have home field advantage in this made up playoff universe. Anyway, Pirates win, and their wild playoff run continues to the NLCS. Unfortunately, it stops there, and in a rather ugly fashion, as the Nationals pitching staff shuts them down completely, giving Washington a sweep and a bizarre World Series appearance out of nowhere. By the way, can you actually sit there and imagine an NLCS match-up between the Nationals and Pirates? Yeah, me either, but it could happen!

And then there were two: the Texas Rangers and Washington Nationals battling it out for what would be the first World Series trophy for either franchise. What would also be ironic about such a match-up is that the Rangers were actually the Washington Senators from 1961-1971. Seriously, I just inadvertently created one of the more intriguing World Series match-ups of all time. Unfortunately, all the press hype would be unfounded when it came time to actually play the games. The Rangers have the most balanced roster in baseball, and while the Nationals are on their way up, they only got here in the (imaginary) first place due to having weak NL opponents. The team that used to be the Washington Senators would completely dismantle the team that used to be the Montreal Expos; we’ll say it took five games, and only because Strasburg threw another no-hitter in the lone National win.

So that’s pretty much that. How are you liking the new playoff system now, baseball fans? I’ve just walked you through the first year of its existence, so there won’t be any need to actually watch the post-season on TV this year, but on the bright side, Ranger fans get an extra four months out of their eventual celebration. It will be very interesting to see how things actually go with this new format when October rolls around.

Can’t get enough of Spencer? Check out his work at StanGraphs and follow him on Twitter at @shendricks221.