Over the past several days, Paul Swydan has written an interesting series of articles on a hypothetical return to a two-division format in Major League Baseball. Sparked by the discussion of the potential addition of a second wild card team in the current three-division format, Swydan presents a scenario in which each league would have two divisions. The playoffs would consist of the division champions and two wild card teams per league.
The goal here would be to increase the likelihood that the most deserving teams make it to the playoffs. In the American league, for example, the Yankees, Red Sox, and Rays could all make the playoffs in the same season. Swydan brings up the logistical issues of making the switch, including the fact that breaking up the National League wouldn't be easy and travel distances for some teams could increase considerably.
The dynamic of the playoff race would shift pretty dramatically from the system everyone has gotten used to since it began in 1995. If both divisions in a league were relatively balanced, winning the division wouldn't mean a whole lot. That can happen under the current system, as was the case last year with the AL East. If one division were disproportionately strong, however, winning the title in the other division would be the only path to the playoffs. It's probably also safe to assume that squeezing in enough games against divisional rivals would mean reducing interleague play significantly or eliminating it altogether.
As for the Mets, things would change, but not too drastically. Here's what the NL East would look like under the proposed system:
The Mets would retain all of their current divisional rivals while adding the Reds, Brewers, and Pirates. As far as travel arrangements go, the Mets wouldn't have to go anywhere too crazy to play divisional games. All of those games would remain in the Eastern time zone except for those in Milwaukee, and they would only be played an hour later than usual.
The Mets would transition from a five-team division with one traditional bottom-dweller to an eight-team division with two. Swydan also points out that the Mets and Phillies would enjoy a financial advantage with teams like Cincinnati and Pittsburgh joining their division. While there are exceptions to the rule, teams with higher payrolls generally win more frequently than those with lower payrolls.
As for the past, had this system been in place all along, the 1990s and 2000s could have brought the Mets more success. The Mets would have made the playoffs in 2008 instead of the Dodgers, and it would have been between the Mets and Dodgers for a playoff spot in 1997 instead of the Astros. The rival Phillies would have made two more playoff appearances, as well: in 2005 over the Padres and in 2006 over the Cardinals. In a nutshell, things would have looked very different in the postseason. Looking at the past through this lens is imperfect since the schedules wouldn't have been the same, but the point is that they would have gotten in over teams with lesser records than theirs.
Although it doesn't seem like something the league is realistically considering, the proposed change is a good topic for discussion. If you're not a fan of interleague play, there's probably a lot of appeal in this system. In each of the past two seasons, plenty of Mets fans made road trips to Fenway Park and Camden Yards to see the team, and that would be lost under the proposed system. Overall, the season would run a very different course than it currently does.