It became pretty clear pretty early that Burlington and Kingsport were running away with, respectively, the East and West divisions. The quick starts by the Sock Puppets and Axmen rendered the bulk of the season into a plodding countdown to the league championship game, tonight in Burlington.
I just finished my 13th season calling games for Princeton. The lack of important games led me to wonder, wistfully and fancifully, how much more compelling the season would be if the league had a wild card system – more specifically, if the 2nd- and 3rd-place teams in each division earn playoff spots behind the division champions.
If my system was in effect, here’s what the Appy League post-season schedule (based on the final regular season standings):
Monday August 8: Wild Card
East Division: #3 Bluefield at #2 Pulaski
West Division: #3 Elizabethton at #2 Johnson City
Tuesday August 9: Division Championships
East Division: Bluefield/Pulaski winner at #1 Burlington
West Division: Elizabethton/Johnson City winner at #1 Kingsport
Wednesday August 10: Off Day
Thursday August 11: League Championship
West Division Champion at East Division Champion
A multiple wild card system would have kept seven of the eight non-division leaders in playoff contention until the last week of the schedule. Every day would’ve featured several meaningful games, fueling further fan interest. More post-season berths at stake would provide more motivation for the players. The last weeks of the season would’ve have changed from a snooze to a sprint.
If my wild card system was in effect in 2022, playoff spots wouldn’t have been secured until the last day of the season. The last wild card in each division was decided by a half-game; in the East, home field advantage in a wild card game was determined by a .001 difference in winning percentage.
The downside to an expanded playoff system is that it extends the season by three days at a time of year when many players are due to return to college. But the upsides are many. And, let's remember, there's nothing quite like playoff baseball.
Maybe next year, eh?