Major League Baseball is often thought of as a game meant for children but played -- and messed up -- by grown men.
The slow pace of a game of professional baseball is not for everyone and the lengthy season can be difficult to follow. Add in an All-Star game that decides home-field advantage for the World Series; a replay system that is inferior to that of the Little League World Series, and you have the formula for a sport that is losing the casual fan.
But as much as the MLB is painted as a non-progressive sport, they may have finally hit a home run with their playoff format change in 2012.
The final day of the 2011 regular season was magical. It was the greatest novel that any baseball writer, fan, or historian could have dreamed of, but better. The climax came at the perfect time as the protagonists rose to the occasion and the teams in free-fall lost their place at the top. Teams with a grip lost it, those without one slid in. Baseball wanted that day to last forever so they made a change.
One extra wild card team has been added and those boring 162 games have suddenly become exciting around the 130-game mark. Many times in the past the four playoff spots in each league would be all but decided by this point with the only question revolving around which team out of the AL East would be division champion while the other claimed the wild card.
At this point in the season there are approximately 15 games left to be played. Considering the ten-game collapse of the Braves and others in 2011, anything can happen between now and the rest of the year. In 2009, five teams in the American League were within six games and five from the National League were within seven games of the wild card on this date -- September 20th. By the end of the year, however, Boston (eight game lead) and Colorado (four-game lead) easily took home postseason births with Texas and San Francisco being the odd-men out. What if the Rangers and Giants would have been given one more shot?
In 2010, New York claimed the AL wild card by six games over Boston while Atlanta claimed the spot in the NL by a single game over San Diego. With 15 games to go, six teams were within 8.5 games of the AL Wild Card with four teams within 5.5 of the NL wild card.
And finally we glance back at 2011. St. Louis -- the eventual World Series champions -- slipped in on the final day by one game over Atlanta as Tampa Bay did the same over Boston in the American League. But how great would it have been to see our current format played out last year?
St. Louis, a team on the rise, faces off against Atlanta who has free fallen over the last two weeks. Likewise, the Red Sox had slid mightily while the Rays blasted their way in. But what if the Sox and Braves had one chance to recover and regroup? What if the Cardinals never stepped foot into the 2011 postseason?
That improbable World Series game six would have never happened. Perhaps Texas would be world champions now. The possibilities are what make sports amazing. The chance to be kept on the edge of our seats.
As of yesterday, Oakland and Baltimore were tied for the top spot in the American League wild card while the LA Angels sat three games back; Detroit Tigers five back. In the National League, Atlanta has the top spot all but wrapped up with a seven-game lead over St. Louis. But after that it gets interesting. Including the Cardinals, seven teams are within seven games of the second spot with approximately 15 games to play.
Four teams in each league fighting for two spots instead of one. A larger margin for error and more room for plot twists. The last month of the regular season has never felt so exciting.
Sound Off: Are you a fan of the new MLB playoff format? What teams in each league do you see making the playoffs as wild card representatives?
Justin Mikels is a staff writer for Operation Sports. Follow him on Twitter: @long_snapper