Ahh, the wonders of interleague play.
Houston's move to the American League before the 2013 season had to be done. Before this season, teams from the American League West had a statistically better chance to make the playoffs than anyone else, while teams from the National League Central had a statistically worse chance to make the playoffs than anyone else.
That problem has been solved, but another has arisen.
There are 30 teams in Major League Baseball, 15 (an odd number) in each league. Baseball is different from the three other major North American sports for two reasons. First, it is the only sport in which each team plays six to seven games every week in sets of two, three or four-game series. Second, it is the only sport that has two leagues with different rules.
The American League style of play is based around having a designated hitter. American League games are full of offense, as each team can add a pure hitter into its lineup instead of an offensively challenged pitcher.
The National League differs in the sense that it is all about small ball. It's about bunting, stealing and doing all the little things in order to win games.
It goes without saying that fans have their own opinions on which style of play they like better. But there is a common consensus that when these two styles combine, they create a less entertaining game.
First of all, I would just like to say that I personally don't mind interleague play. There's something fun about heading down to the ballpark to watch my team take on teams that I haven't watched in person before. But many, many fans disagree with that logic.
The issue is that with an odd number of teams in each league, an interleague matchup will happen every day of the week.
Before the Astros swapped leagues, some fans were even calling to get rid of all interleague play whatsoever (other than the World Series, of course). Now it just seems to have gotten worse for fans that hate it so much.
In truth, there is not a significantly larger amount of interleague play in 2013. The difference now is that it's always happening, instead of just going on a three-week free-for-all with all sorts of matchups with absolutely no historical background whatsoever.
Now that it's impossible to eliminate interleague play altogether, there is only one realistic solution: expansion.
Expansion would be a smart idea because it could allow a select few interleague matchups a year in order to preserve certain rivalries (Yankees-Mets, Indians-Reds, Cubs-White Sox, A's-Giants, etc.), but it would not require series against six different teams from the opposite league.
When it comes to expansion in any sport, the obvious question is: where?
Baseball again differs from other sports because there are minor league teams scattered virtually everywhere throughout the country. Good luck finding a somewhat large city without one.
This isn't really as much of a problem as it seems; when the NHL's Atlanta Thrashers relocated to Winnipeg in 2011, the Manitoba Moose (an AHL team already playing in Winnipeg) simply relocated themselves.
Another thing that makes expansion easy is that every division currently has five teams—making it possible to put the team anywhere in the country.
Some of the best candidates for an expansion are cities like Indianapolis, Portland, Oklahoma City, Charlotte, Memphis and Nashville.
Portland, while close to Seattle, would likely be the best choice. The NBA's Trail Blazers are the only Big Four team to inhabit the city, and their fans have shown tremendous support for years, based on attendance numbers. A baseball team could easily thrive in Portland and would also have a geographic rival in the Seattle Mariners.
Oklahoma City would likely be the next best choice, as its only Big Four team is another NBA team, the Thunder. Thunder fans have been known to be some of the most loyal in all of basketball, and it is very likely that the inhabitants of Oklahoma City and its surrounding areas would provide a great baseball atmosphere as well.
Let's say Portland and Oklahoma City are the two expansion teams. Who goes to the American League and who goes to the National League?
Portland would have a geographic rivalry with Seattle, making it a plausible candidate for the American League West. Oklahoma City, however, could also play in the American League West, as it is close to Arlington and Houston.
In the end, Portland would make the most sense to be the team in the American League West, while Oklahoma City would fit well in either the National League Central with St. Louis, Milwaukee, Pittsburgh, Cincinnati and the Chicago Cubs; or the National League West with Arizona, Colorado, San Diego, San Francisco and the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Again, however, the problem could arise that it would be statistically tougher for teams in the divisions which contain these two teams to make the playoffs as division champions.
Another solution would be to divide each league into four separate divisions of four teams each, like the National Football League.
The playoffs could be determined in two different ways; either only the division winners make the playoffs or four wild cards could be included.
These divisions (with Portland and Oklahoma City filling the places of the expansion teams) could look something like this:
East Division: Baltimore Orioles, Boston Red Sox, New York Yankees, Tampa Bay Rays
North Division: Cleveland Indians, Detroit Tigers, Minnesota Twins, Toronto Blue Jays
Central Division: Chicago White Sox, Houston Astros, Kansas City Royals, Texas Rangers
West Division: Los Angeles Angels, Oakland Athletics, Portland, Seattle Mariners
East Division: Atlanta Braves, New York Mets, Philadelphia Phillies, Washington Nationals
Midwest Division: Chicago Cubs, Colorado Rockies, Oklahoma City, St. Louis Cardinals
Central Division: Cincinnati Reds, Miami Marlins, Milwaukee Brewers, Pittsburgh Pirates
West Division: Arizona Diamondbacks, Los Angeles Dodgers, San Diego Padres, San Francisco Giants
The National League is a little trickier to figure out since the Cardinals-Cubs rivalry has to be preserved, but expect a realignment to look fairly similar to that—if it ever happens.
Nobody knows what the future of Major League Baseball will be like. Maybe it will include expansion, maybe it won't. Maybe the National League will add the DH, or maybe the American League will take it away. Maybe nothing will change.
But for now, it doesn't hurt to wonder what the next few years could have in store for baseball fans, and maybe a couple of lucky cities.
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