UPDATE: GMs favor an additional wild card, best of three wild card playoff round

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UPDATE: Some hate it. Some like it. But MLB is more likely to expand the playoffs in 2012 as opposed to next season, according to the Associated Press.

Rob Manfred, MLB’s executive vice president of labor relations, explained earlier this afternoon that adding another wild card team would be “a difficult trick to pull off” because it would require reopening the collective bargaining agreement with the players’ union. The current deal runs through the end of next season, so don’t freak out yet. It’s at least a year away.

By the way, if the playoffs were expanded for this past season, the Yankees would have played the Red Sox in the American League and the Braves would have played the Padres in the National League.

12:30 PM: The general managers are all meeting in Florida this week and, as we’ve expected, one of the items on the agenda will be making a proposal to Commissioner Selig about expanding the first round of the playoffs with an additional wild card team.  The news nugget here is that the GMs USA Today’s Bob Nightengale spoke to all prefer that the first round of the playoffs, which would be between each league’s two wild card teams, either be a one-and-done elimination game or, at most, a best of three scenario.

I’m on record as being opposed to any expansion of the playoffs, because I think it’s a cynical cash grab that Bud Selig has disingenuously portrayed as “fairness” — Fairness? Where’s replay then? —  and that by increasing the number of teams eligible for the postseason party, you increase the chances that a bad team will get hot for a couple of weeks and more or less make a mockery of the regular season. Oh, and you likely reverse the things baseball has tried to do to cut the length of the playoffs down over the past couple of years. Worst of all, it creates a total crapshoot playoff round that is about as divorced from the normal dynamics of baseball than anything that’s ever been done before, and that sits with me quite poorly. One-and-done? If we’re gonna make a tournament out of this, let’s just invite all 30 teams and unleash the bracketologists.

Assuming, however, that baseball is intent on expanding the playoffs — which they appear to be — I suppose that a best-of-three scenario is the least worst option.  Sure, it still makes a gimmick out of that first round, but at least it places a premium on winning the division as opposed to getting the wild card. Especially if the division series is expanded to seven games.  Ask yourself: does Joe Girardi content himself with the wild card if it means that he has to face Jon Lester and the Red Sox in an elimination game, or does he try to pass up the Rays in order to assure himself of a best-of-seven first round?  I bet the latter.

I still think it’s possible to make winning the division mean more than winning the wild card with only four playoff teams — compress the schedule; fiddle with home field — but if they’re hellbent on a bad idea, at least it will likely come with a half-decent side-benefit.

In the playoffs, the Yankees’ weakness has become their strength

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Two weeks ago, when the playoffs began, the idea of “bullpenning” once again surfaced, this time with the Yankees as a focus. Because their starting pitching was believed to be a weakness — they had no obvious ace like a Dallas Keuchel or Corey Kluber — and their bullpen was a major strength, the idea of chaining relievers together starting from the first inning gained traction. The likes of Luis Severino, who struggled mightily in the AL Wild Card game, or Masahiro Tanaka (4.79 regular season ERA) couldn’t be relied upon in the postseason, the thought went.

That idea is no longer necessary for the Yankees because the starting rotation has become the club’s greatest strength. Tanaka fired seven shutout innings to help push the Yankees ahead of the Astros in the ALCS, three games to two. They are now one win away from reaching the World Series for the first time since 2009.

It hasn’t just been Tanaka. Since Game 3 of the ALDS, Yankees pitchers have made eight starts spanning 46 1/3 innings. They have allowed 10 runs (nine earned) on 25 hits and 12 walks with 45 strikeouts. That’s a 1.75 ERA with an 8.74 K/9 and 2.33 BB/9. In five of those eight starts, the starter went at least six innings, which has helped preserve the freshness and longevity of the bullpen.

Here’s the full list of performances for Yankee starters this postseason:

Game Starter IP H R ER BB SO HR
AL WC Luis Severino 1/3 4 3 3 1 0 2
ALDS 1 Sonny Gray 3 1/3 3 3 3 4 2 1
ALDS 2 CC Sabathia 5 1/3 3 4 2 3 5 0
ALDS 3 Masahiro Tanaka 7 3 0 0 1 7 0
ALDS 4 Luis Severino 7 4 3 3 1 9 2
ALDS 5 CC Sabathia 4 1/3 5 2 2 0 9 0
ALCS 1 Masahiro Tanaka 6 4 2 2 1 3 0
ALCS 2 Luis Severino 4 2 1 1 2 0 1
ALCS 3 CC Sabathia 6 3 0 0 4 5 0
ALCS 4 Sonny Gray 5 1 2 1 2 4 0
ALCS 5 Masahiro Tanaka 7 3 0 0 1 8 0
TOTAL 55 1/3 35 20 17 20 52 6

In particular, if you hone in on the ALCS starts specifically, Yankee starters have pitched 28 innings, allowing five runs (four earned) on 13 hits and 10 walks with 20 strikeouts. That’s a 1.61 ERA.

While the Yankees’ biggest weakness has become a strength, the Astros’ biggest weakness — the bullpen — has become an even bigger weakness. This is why the Yankees, who won 10 fewer games than the Astros during the regular season, are one win away from reaching the World Series and the Astros are not.