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Could the MLB playoffs come to Nationals Park as soon as this year?
Whether you're a fan of the new system or not -- full disclosure: I'm not a fan -- you do have to acknowledge the Nationals stand to benefit from this change as much as anyone else in the sport.
Why? Because all of a sudden, you can finish third in your division and still make the postseason. And that's a position many expect the Nationals to finish in this year, behind the Phillies and Braves in the NL East.
There's no guarantee the extra wild-card will come out of the NL East, but the division certainly looks strong enough to produce three playoff clubs, so that could put the Nationals smack dab in the think of a pennant race.
So what's it going to take to win that second wild-card? Probably 89 wins.
If you go back and analyze the NL and AL standings over the last decade, you'll find that a couple of teams with as few as 85 wins (the 2006 Phillies and 2001 Twins) would have qualified for the playoffs under this new format. You'll also find a couple of 93-win teams (the 2002 Mariners or Red Sox, the 2003 Mariners and the 2005 Indians) earning that spot.
On average, though, the NL's fifth-best club has won 88.9 games over the last decade. The AL's fifth-best club has won an average of 89.8 games.
So the bar has been set, and certainly the Nationals will enter this season feeling like they have a chance to ascend to that level.
How's the new-look postseason format going to look? Well, the three division winners will each earn a brief bye, motivation for everyone to play through the finish line and not simply be happy to reach the playoffs.
The two wild-cards per league, meanwhile, will be forced to play a one-game playoff at the site of the team with the better record. For example, last year the 89-win Braves would have traveled to St. Louis to face the 90-win Cardinals in a winner-take-all showdown. The winner of that do-or-die game would then advance to the Division Series, facing the team with the league's top record in a best-of-5 series.
This does raise an interesting question, especially for fans of teams that haven't been to the playoffs in quite some time: How would you feel about a Washington baseball club reaching the postseason for the first time since 1933 ... but not getting to host a single playoff game?
That's what could happen to the No. 2 wild-card from each league. Their entire season will rest on a one-game playoff. On the road. Good luck with that.
Obviously, the Nationals have a long way to go before they can legitimately worry about these things. Securing a winning record before printing playoff tickets would be a wise idea.
But the possibility is about to be closer to their reach than ever before.
So what do you think: Do you support the expanded postseason plan? And if so, how would you feel about the Nationals reaching the playoffs but not being able to host at least one game in the month of October?