Major League Baseball announced that they will be adding an additional wild card playoff spot to each league. As with any change to the MLB, all of the traditionalists are up in arms, however, this actually brings us closer to the way things used to be, when winning your division was the most important thing.
First, I don't think anything is wrong with the current system per se, and most baseball fans subscribe to the mantra "don't mess with tradition", but adding additional playoff teams will make fans more interested in games later into the season. This is obviously a money grab for the owners, but I think it has the side benefits of actually being good for the integrity of the game as well.
The proposed change will pit the two wild card teams against each other in a 1 game playoff, presumably for the right to play the #1 seed in the LDS, regardless of division. The other two division winners will face each other as normal (1). The first thing glaring is the one game series. Baseball is a game of series. The reason for this is starting pitching, the biggest variable on any team. A team's best starter can't pitch every game, so it is of the utmost importance to maximize the number of time an ace pitcher can hit the mound in a given series. Obviously, a team would want their ace on the mound for the one game playoff, but this means they aren't able to pitch as many games in the LDS if they win (2).
This leads to the biggest advantage that the division winner that faces the wild card team could have: missing the wild card team's ace. You might be thinking to yourself "isn't home field advantage enough?" Simply put, no, it isn't. Historically, the home team has a 3.9% advantage in a five game series (3). The baseball regular season is supposed to be a marathon. The team with the best regular season record then should get a bit more something to show for it than a 3.9% boost. I don't think this is unfair to the wild card teams either, because truly, only division winners have secured the "right" to be in the playoffs. This is the point of being a wild card - yes, being fourth seed has been devalued a lot, but being fifth seed now means something. Remember when there were no wild cards and only two teams (the division winners) from each league made the playoffs? That's tradition. Winning the division just became that much more important compared to just getting into the playoffs.
This would also be more exciting for the fans. Like I said before, this is all a trick to get us to care more about baseball in September because the games will mean more. Two more sets of fans will get to taste October baseball each year. The fact that this is a one game playoff is key. The alternative of adding another five (or even three) game series would be horrific. The season is long enough. Remember the end of the 2011 regular season? The playoff teams were decided on the last day, and everyone was watching games and teams they normally wouldn't because the emotional investment was small - just one winner take all game. This could be every season.
Yes, adding more playoff teams is a huge break from tradition and shouldn't be taken lightly. However, deemphasizing the wild card and reemphasizing winning the division gets back to the roots of the MLB, and having extra teams vying for a one game playoff will be more exciting for the fans. So think about it, if it could make the game more exciting and more fair, why not give it a chance?
(1) Actually, the situation might arise where the extra time needed for the wild card playoff game gives each of these teams time to set up the rotation. This will make the games more meaningful as both teams are able to get their best lineups on the field.
(2) This also gives the manager of these teams plenty of opportunity to outsmart themselves by "saving" their ace. Of course, the pitchers could just happen to line up such that their ace isn't available anyway.
(3) Via http://harvardsportsanalysis.wordpress.com/2010/10/21/mlb-playoff-home-field-advantage-is-tinier-than-david-eckstein/