The 2023 AL and NL Central make it clear that change is needed

Chicago White Sox v Oakland Athletics
Chicago White Sox v Oakland Athletics / Thearon W. Henderson/GettyImages

The fact the Chicago White Sox are well under the .500 mark yet only 6.5 games out of first place in the American League Central Division is not only an embarrassment to baseball but should lead to a change in the current playoff format.

Going into Sunday's games, the Minnesota Twins are atop the Central Division with a 42-42 record. Aside from the rest of the division, only the Seattle Mariners and Oakland A's have worse records than the Twins.

If the season were to end today, the Twins would be in the playoffs by virtue of their division title and would face the Houston Astros who are the number three wild-card team. On the outside looking in would be the Toronto Blue Jays (45-39), Los Angeles Angels (44-40), and Boston Red Sox (42-42).

It doesn't seem fair that the Twins should even be in the playoffs when they have just the 8th best record overall in the American League.

The Chicago White Sox play in the worst division of all-time.

The same can be said for the National League Central division where the Milwaukee Brewers and Cincinnati Reds are tied for first with 44-39 records but are tied with the Philadelphia Phillies for fourth in the wild card.

The new balanced schedule MLB implemented this year has each team playing everyone in the league as opposed to rotating interleague divisional opponents as it has in the past. Thus, each league should be able to determine who the best teams are.

However, the format to determine playoff qualifiers has changed dramatically over the years, culminating with the current setup of three division winners and three wild cards.

The top two division winners get byes into the Divisional Series while the lowest division winner takes on the third-seeded wild card, leaving the remaining two wild cards to face each other.

Aside from the additional revenue that more playoff games bring, the changes to the playoff format were a virtual necessity since teams were not rewarded for putting up records better than divisional winners.

Unfortunately, the playoffs are now more of a tournament in the same way they are for the NBA and NHL. Playoff expansion has lessened the importance of the regular season to a degree since more teams are in the playoff picture.

Since baseball was flexible enough to make changes to improve the game going into this season, why not look into a fairer way to determine playoff teams?

There are several ways to go with it.

One would be to eliminate divisions all together and take the top six teams based on record.

Perhaps that could be something that happens eventually, but for now, the tradition of having a divisional winner seems to be one that will not change.

There is a way to keep the importance of winning a division yet allow for teams with better records to make the post-season, thus really having the best teams compete for a title.

Should a team win a division with a record below that of a team which missed out of the wild card, the division winner and that team would meet in a one game matchup to get the final playoff spot.

Using the example of the season ending today, the Twins would be the Central Division winners but would play the Blue Jays whose overall record is better yet was not one of the three wild card qualifiers.

The winner would take the final playoff spot and would be seeded based on their record compared to the other teams.

Should there not be a team with a better record than a division champ, the current format would be implemented.

In this way, the regular season keeps its importance, the division title is still relevant, and the best teams will be in the postseason.

There have been instances of teams just over .500 who have made the playoffs in the past. The COVID-shortened 2020 season saw the Brewers and Astros make it with losing records of 29-31.

Work stoppages due to players' strikes in 1981 and 1994 resulted in the Kansas City Royals and Texas Rangers playing post season ball despite winning their divisions with records below .500.

Regardless of a team's record, if they make the playoffs they have a chance to win a title and don't feel as though they need to apologize for how their regular season ended.

But, if crowing a champion is about finding out who is best, shouldn't the best teams be the ones playing for it?

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