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Tampa Bay Rays like idea of adding another wild card under baseball's new playoff format

PORT CHARLOTTE — The details and logistics have yet to be finalized, Major League Baseball going past its Thursday deadline to announce the addition of two more wild-card teams to its playoff field this season.

But the Rays sure like the concept.

"Anything that increases our chances of making the postseason on an annual basis is a good thing," executive vice president Andrew Friedman said.

"I think it's great," manager Joe Maddon said.

The plan calls for the addition of a second wild-card team in each league — increasing the playoff field to 10 of MLB's 30 teams, still a lower percentage than the NFL, NBA and NHL — to create additional competition and interest. It also puts a tremendous value on winning a division title since the wild cards are set to meet in a potentially captivating and somewhat-cruel one-game showdown.

"I think it's exciting," Rays third baseman and player rep Evan Longoria said. "It was pretty unanimous around the league that the more playoff spots the better. Once you get into the playoffs, it's more revenue for the ball club, it's more excitement for the players, so I think it would be a no-brainer for everybody."

For the Rays, competing in the treacherous American League East, the biggest benefit is the most obvious, the creation of another entry point to the postseason. Conceivably, they could now finish behind the Red Sox and the Yankees and still make the playoffs.

"I like having more teams in," starter David Price said. "That gives us a better chance."

But since the Rays have crashed the postseason scene in three of the past four seasons, several players suggested MLB is not being benevolent, that the concept isn't as much about making sure more teams are included as that certain big-market teams are not excluded.

"With us playing in a division with the Yankees and Red Sox, one of the three teams is always getting cut out the last few years," outfielder Matt Joyce said. "I don't know if it's one of those things where they always want to see Boston and the Yankees in the playoffs because they have so many fans and they're such a big draw. That might be part of it."

"Hmmm …" Price said. "I wonder which one it is?"

The new format definitely puts a premium on finishing first, as the three division winners essentially get a first-round "bye" before starting best-of-five division series play with the wild-card survivor. Under the old plan, the sole wild-card winner started on the road but otherwise on essentially equal footing with the division champs.

The Rays say they prefer it that way.

"Our goal is not just to get to the playoffs. Our goal is to win our division every year," Maddon said. "To win our division is kind of a significant moment. It tells you where you're at as an organization."

Yankees general manager Brian Cashman said that wasn't the case in 2010 when, knowing they had at least the wild card, they "conceded" and "didn't try to win the division," news not only to the Rays, who did win it, but surely to the New York fans who paid hefty prices to watch those games.

There are still inequities in the new plan, such as having teams from different divisions playing schedules with vastly varied degrees of difficulties (due to the unbalanced format) competing against each other. Also, that one team could win its division with, say, 87 wins, while another with 90-plus could be left competing for a wild-card.

There is also concern about the equity of a one-game wild-card playoff as the two teams battled for six months to reach the postseason and one will be out in three hours.

"That's almost unfair," Price said. "One game does not determine the better team. I don't feel like that serves any justice."

"It's kind of firm," Maddon said. "I would imagine the team that is the upper-level wild-card team would be the one that's a little bit more concerned. The one that comes in at the very end, you'll take that one-game playoff."

Marc Topkin can be reached at topkin@tampabay.com.

Tampa Bay Rays like idea of adding another wild card under baseball's new playoff format 03/01/12 [Last modified: Thursday, March 1, 2012 9:30pm]
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