McAdam: New playoff format just what MLB needs

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McAdam: New playoff format just what MLB needs

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- The temptation is to say, enough, that when it comes to the playoffs less is more, and that an expanded playoff format will serve only to water down October.

That's the temptation.

The reality is far different. Adding a wild card entry in each league, starting this October -- which MLB is poised to do -- is actually, counter-intuitively, a good thing on several fronts.

Let us count the ways:

1) It will sustain interest in more cities for a longer period of time.

Look, football is king of the sports hill. There's no sense arguing that point. Once September arrives, football -- college, but especially the NFL -- blots out the sun.

Fantasy league and office pools dominate and the NFL rules the late summer and early fall. If you live in a city with an NFL franchise and an out-of-contention baseball team on Labor Day, chances are you won't think much about baseball again until the World Series.

But if the opportunity exists for more baseball teams to remain in the post-season hunt, baseball has a fighting chance to maintain fan interest into the fall.

Just the hint of contention is enough to engage a fan base. Look at how fans responded in recent seasons in cities like Milwaukee and Cincinnati and other places where the playoffs had become rare occurrences.

What's more, one playoff appearance can jump-start interest for years to come. Since the Brewers ended a long post-season drought in 2008, they've drawn in excess of three million fans in two of the last three seasons.

2) Expanding to 10 playoffs teams -- five in each league -- doesn't constitute "watering down.''

The NFL has 32 teams and 12 make the playoffs, meaning 37.5 percent of the teams qualify. In both the NFL and NBA, more than half (53 percent, or 16-of-30 teams) get invited to the playoffs.

For baseball, one-third (10-of-30) will get to the post-season under the new format.

And remember, teams in baseball play 10 times the number of games that NFL teams do and almost exactly twice as many games as NBA and NHL teams play.

So, to review: it's still tougher -- by every measuring stick -- to get into baseball's post-season than any other sport.

Teams have to play more games and a smaller percentage of the field qualifies, enduring that the regular season still has meaning.

Speaking of which . . .

3) The new format will actually enhance pennant races.

When the current format was introduced in 1995, purists such as Bob Costas declared that we would never again see another true pennant race.

That was largely incorrect. In plenty of seasons, teams battled right down to Game No. 162 -- and sometimes beyond -- to see who would get to the playoffs.

Just last fall, two teams got in -- and two teams narrowly missed out -- thanks to the last few innings of the last few games of a six-month-long season.

Such exciting scrambles won't disappear under the expanded plan. In fact, the more teams involved in the race, the more excitement is generated.

And now, teams will have added incentive down the stretch because . . .

4) The new format places a premium on winning your division.

One of the flaws of the current format was that there was little advantage to finishing first versus coming in second as a wild-card entrant. It meant the difference of a couple of home games and nothing more.

Recall that in 2010, the Tampa Bay Rays and New York Yankees approached the final days and weeks of a division race with complete indifference. It was plainly evident that neither team placed any importance on finishing ahead of the other, simply because there wasn't much at stake.

But now, there's a distinct advantage to finishing first rather than second as a wild card: The three division winners will each get first-round byes and will be given an extra day or two to sort out their pitching.

Wild card teams, on the other hand, will be forced into a one-game showdown with one another.

Now, if two teams are tied for the division lead on the final weekend, there's plenty for which to play. Win the division and you're rewarded with some time to put your rotation in order and don't have to face the prospect of a single loss ending your season.

5) The one-game playoff format will do monster TV ratings.

For a generation of sports fans weaned on the "win-or-go-home'' set-up in the NFL playoffs and March Madness, the wild-card round will produce instant allure.

Some of the highest-rated playoff games in recent baseball history have been the play-in games (think Colorado-San Diego in 2007; Minnesota-Chicago in 2008; and Detroit-Minnesota in 2009).

Even casual fans are drawn to the allure of the "one-and-done'' drama. Now, the first-round games have the potential to lure in casual fans and keep them interested for the remainder of the Division Series, League Championship Series and World Series.

Halftime stars, studs and duds: Celtics go on second-quarter run

Halftime stars, studs and duds: Celtics go on second-quarter run

BOSTON – The Celtics used a blistering run in the second quarter to propel them to a 50-42 lead over the Toronto Raptors after two quarters of play. 

It was the second straight game the Celtics had to play without their leading scorer Isaiah Thomas who remains out indefinitely with a right groin injury. 

As was the case in Boston’s 30-point win at Orlando, Avery Bradley took it upon himself to pick up some of the scoring slack as he leads the Celtics with 13 points at the half. 

Boston also got strong play in the first half from Al Horford who set the tone with a pair of 3’s in the first few minutes of the game. He would score eight first-half points to go with three rebounds. 

And then there was the Celtics bench seemingly picking up where they left off in Orlando.

Jaylen Brown and Terry Rozier were once again making their impact early and often as they scored seven and four points, respectively. 

The game was relatively close until Boston, leading 32-31, went on a 14-0 run.

But the Raptors, once again among the top teams in the East, were able to outscore Boston 11-5 the rest of the second quarter which cut Boston’s led at the half down to eight points.

Here’s a look at the first half Stars, Studs and Duds from tonight’s game. 

 

STARS

Avery Bradley

Showing some serious two-way game tonight, Bradley was scoring the ball well in addition to doing a better-than-average job defensively on DeMar DeRozan. At the half, Bradley had 13 points on 5-for-6 shooting with three rebounds and two assists.

Kyle Lowry

He’s an All-Star but this kid doesn’t get enough credit for his talent. The Celtics had problems with him for large chunks of the first half as he led all Toronto scorers with 13 points on 5-for-8 shooting.

 

STUDS

Jaylen Brown

Very active at both ends of the floor, making the most of his chance to see extended minutes. At the half he had seven points along with two rebounds.

Kelly Olynyk

This was one of the more active games we’ve seen Olynyk play in, especially when it came to rebounding. At the half he had five points and seven rebounds. 

Norman Powell

He helped Toronto get off to a solid start, and finished the half with seven points. 

 

DUDS

DeMar DeRozan

He had eight points at the half, but the Celtics made him work a lot harder for it than he’s used to as DeRozan shot just 4-for-12 from the field.

Thomas (groin) 'pretty ambitious' about return, remains day-to-day

Thomas (groin) 'pretty ambitious' about return, remains day-to-day

BOSTON – Isaiah Thomas, out for the second straight game with a right groin injury, is hoping to be back in the lineup by Wednesday’s game at San Antonio. 

But the Celtics may find themselves having to save the 5-foot-9 from himself on this one. 

“When I talked to Ed (Lacerte, the team’s head trainer) over the last 24-48 hours they said it’s usually 10 days to two weeks for an injury like this,” Celtics head coach Brad Stevens told reporters.

“But again we're talking about Isaiah being pretty ambitious in his return,” Stevens said. “He's been getting treatment around the clock so we'll see. He'll be officially listed as day-to-day.”

When asked about how he was feeling prior to the game, Thomas said, “I’m not that good because I can’t play (tonight). It’s getting better. It hasn’t gotten worse and I’m just working as hard as I can to get back on the court.”

At a Christmas event earlier this week, Thomas said he was planning to travel with the Celtics when they play at Oklahoma City on Sunday and at San Antonio on Wednesday. 

But he didn’t sound as optimistic when asked about it on Friday. 

“I don’t know,” he said. “I’ll probably know tonight.”

If the Celtics have ruled him out for Sunday’s game against the Thunder, it would make more sense for him to stay in Boston and continue to rehab his groin. And if he’s feeling better to the point where he becomes a game-time decision, he could meet the team in San Antonio. 

“I’m going to take it day-by-day,” Thomas said. “Hopefully, I can play in the next few games and we'll see what happens. Today I feel a lot better than I have since I (suffered) the injury so we'll see maybe in next couple of days. I'm shooting for Wednesday."

As much as Thomas wants to be back on the floor quickly, he understands that he must listen to his body as well as the Celtics’ medical folks who have consistently brought back players only after they pass a series of rigorous physical tests that leave little doubt about a player’s readiness to return to action. 

“Our medical staff is great and he trusts them,” Stevens said. “But also, nobody knows his body better than him. They feel like he's not looking (to be sidelined) long-term. It's not going to be a long-term thing for sure. We got to make sure not to bring him back tonight or too soon.”

Thomas is averaging a career-high 26.0 points per game in addition to being Boston’s leaders in assists with 6.2 per game.