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.

Friday, Aug. 26: Coyotes keep taking on dead money in latest deal

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Friday, Aug. 26: Coyotes keep taking on dead money in latest deal

Here are all the links from around the hockey world, and what I’m reading, while finally catching up on “The Man in the High Tower” on Amazon.

*The Coyotes and Panthers executed a trade sending Dave Bolland to Arizona, and it’s not exactly great news for Gary Bettman with Arizona continuing to take on a lot of dead money.

*Alex Pietrangelo was appropriately humbled to be named the 21st captain in the history of the St. Louis Blues.

*The Colorado Avalanche have a new head coach, and his name is Jared Bednar, who it is said will get the players to play hard for him.

*The footage of somebody in full goalie equipment running away from a burglary scene is something out of a movie.

*The New York Rangers can never have enough depth, and that’s why they added Brandon Pirri to the mix on Thursday.

*PHT writer Cam Tucker says Lawson Crouse brings the total package in the trade from Florida to Arizona, and he also brings a player that can take a hell of a hit as he was the guy that got rocked by Charlie McAvoy at the World Junior Showcase earlier this month.  

*It’s only 15 days until the US National Team Development Program gets going with their 2016-17 schedule: here it is in full.

*For something completely different: can you see David Ortiz’s face in this corn maze? This could be like an ink blot test.

 

Foster playing catch-up, could help his cause vs. Panthers

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Foster playing catch-up, could help his cause vs. Panthers

FOXBORO -- When DJ Foster took the field for Patriots OTAs, he looked as advertised: quick, a crisp route-runner, and the owner of a pair of dependable hands. But that was back when players wore shorts to every practice. Since then, the undrafted rookie running back out of Arizona State hasn't had the opportunity to do much other than work on his conditioning while the majority of his teammates practiced. 

That could soon change. Though Foster has dealt with what he calls a "nagging" injury throughout much of training camp, he felt well enough this week to return to practice, and on Friday night he is likely to see preseason game action for the first time this summer.

The reason Foster's preseason debut could carry some importance is that he happens to play a position that may qualify as the thinnest on the Patriots roster right now. Because sub back extraordinaire Dion Lewis will not be healthy enough to start the season, and because coach Bill Belichick opted to part ways with veteran Donald Brown recently, the team is low on numbers in their running back room.

If Foster can capitalize on the opportunities he's given, he may make a case for a roster spot. James White, who is expected to be Lewis' primary replacement, is the other lone true sub back on the roster. Brandon Bolden can fill in at that role on an emergency basis, and Tyler Gaffney has shown he can catch the football when asked, but neither has the kind of pass-catching upside of Foster, who played receiver for the Sun Devils as a senior and racked up 222 receptions during his four-year college career. 

Foster has only so much time to prove he's worthy of a job. The Patriots have to reduce their numbers to 75 by Aug. 30. They need to be down to 53 by Sep. 3. Foster could be a tantalizing prospect to stash on the practice squad, but surely he'd like to make a push for a greater role. 

He explained this week that, despite his recent physical limitations, he won't be holding back whenever he does get a chance to prove himelf. 

"The coaches do a great job at just kind of making sure I'm OK and stuff," he said. "For me, when I'm in there, do what I can, give everything I got -- every rep, every chance I get with the reps. Stay in the playbook, stay involved in the meetings, and just try to learn as much as I can. Whenever I do get an opportunity, go out there and make the most of it."

Against the Panthers, the Patriots coaching staff will have to balance the need to evaluate players like Foster against good competition versus getting the entire team ready for Week 1. For example, they'd like to get a good look at Foster, whose practice reps were next to nil before this week. They'd also probably like to get White as many reps as possible so that he's prepared for the Cardinals. 

Who should play when? And how many snaps do they need? 

"You can’t see D.J. Foster play in this league. You have Arizona State film but that’s all you have, and some of the spring work that he did which is obviously encouraging," Belichick said earlier this week. "We still have him, but there’s just no body of work. Donald Brown, you can see Donald Brown . . . Players like D.J., it’s hard. You don’t have much to go on. But maybe he’ll be able to do more. We’ll get an evaluation of him soon, hopefully."

Friday night could be the night.