The Yankees' Path to the Playoffs Gets Easier

A second Wild Card team will be added this season

After months of rumors, it appears baseball is finally moving forward with their plan to expand the postseason.

Major League Baseball is expected to announce as soon as Thursday that there will be an additional Wild Card team added in each league for the 2012 season. The two Wild Card teams will face off in a one-game playoff with the winner advancing to face one of the three division winners in the traditional best-of-five series that kicks off the road to the World Series.

This is pretty good news for the Yankees. Now they need only finish with one of the three best records -- assuming the AL East again dominates -- in the American League to assure themselves of a place in the postseason, which isn't a bad cushion to have when your roster appears ready to win more than 90 games just by showing up.

But, as we all know, life in the Bronx doesn't begin and end with making the playoffs alone. It's about the World Series and the change to the playoff format will make it even more important to win the division than it has been in recent years.

Baseball isn't a game where having the more talented team guarantees you all that much over the course of nine innings. Heck, we've seen plenty of cases where a five-game series goes against the favorites because of the vagaries of life on the diamond.

A well-pitched game by the opposition, an error or two and about a million other things can happen to create a loss. With a longer series, you can bounce back from that and advance, but a winner-takes-all game offers you nothing but a relatively meaningless playoff appearance to show for being on the wrong side of the breaks. 

So that makes winning the division a much bigger priority than it was in 2010, when Brian Cashman admitted the Yankees were more focused on getting healthy in September than they were on catching the Rays. Putting more importance on winning the division is a good thing, for the Yankees and for the game, so that's one reason to like the move.

Another one is the excitement that those one-game playoffs to advance will bring come October. Everyone remembers how great the final day of the 2011 regular season was and now there's a guarantee of having that kind of do-or-die atmosphere at least twice every season.

That should make good ratings, even if there will be plenty of detractors sounding their displeasure with the idea once it is made official. Why should a team that won more games have to play a lesser opponent just to make it to the "real" playoffs will probably be at the top of the list.

No one seems to have a problem with that in the NFL, so it's hard to understand why it is a big deal for baseball to go that route. The one-game nature runs counter to baseball's ethos, but it does amp up the excitement and that's clearly part of what baseball is shooting for by expanding the playoff field.

The net result -- better division races and exciting do-or-die games in October -- seems to be a win for baseball. Now we just need to see if it works out well for the Yankees.

Josh Alper is a writer living in New York City. You can follow him on Twitter and he is also a contributor to Pro Football Talk.

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