Thursday night, the Oakland Athletics and Detroit Tigers face off in an elimination game for both teams, with the winner advancing to the American League Championship Series. The A's looked almost certain to be eliminated Wednesday night until they mustered some late-inning heroics, scraping together a three-run ninth against Tigers closer Jose Valverde.
On paper, the A's were the higher seed coming into this series and thus were entitled to the greater home-field advantage. But without Wednesday night's miraculous win, the A's were never going to see the benefit of their better record, due to the format of the five-game series. In order to cut down on travel days this year, MLB switched to a 2-3 format -- two games at home for the lower seed, then three games at home for the higher seed. In the 2-2-1 format it replaced, the team with the better record gets to take, well, advantage of its home field if the series runs to three games or five games, with only a four-game series depriving them of that benefit. In the current setup, the series has to run five games for them to see the benefit of their higher seeding.
So in a different playoff series, would the A's have needed those heroics to stay alive in the playoffs? Or would they have had an easier time dispatching the Tigers already if they hadn't needed to force a four-game series just to see a second home game? Fans of the other higher seeds are probably wondering the same thing -- of the higher seeds, the New York Yankees are the only team leading their series, and the Cincinnati Reds and Washington Nationals are both facing elimination games Thursday. Would those teams be in better shape right now if they'd been able to play under the old format instead of the new one?