MLB may still add wild cards in ’12

Baseball still could add two wild cards for the 2012 season, according to major-league sources. But to expand the postseason so quickly, the sport must confront a scheduling puzzle that might be impossible to solve.

Union and management officials plan to resume discussions on the logistics early next week, sources say. Baseball’s new collective-bargaining agreement stipulates that the postseason will expand in ’13, but commissioner Bud Selig would like to see it happen in ’12. So do certain owners who want to increase their chances of making the playoffs immediately, sources say.

To implement such a format, however, baseball at the very least might need to be flexible with starting times for the final day of the regular season, the one-game wild-card knockout and possibly Game 1 of the Division Series.

“It’s going to be hard to do,” said one source with knowledge of the discussions. “But it’s still possible.”

The union, concerned about the integrity of competition, opposed expanding the postseason until baseball went to two 15-team leagues, something that will happen in ’13 when the Houston Astros move to the AL West.

Inequities in the schedule will remain in ’12, but the union is willing to accommodate Selig’s wishes, knowing its desired format will be in place next year. The ’13 season will end on a Sunday instead of a Wednesday, creating the extra days necessary to incorporate wild-card games in each league.

The problem in ’12 is that the regular season ends on Wednesday, Oct. 3, and the World Series will begin on FOX on Wednesday, Oct. 24. Squeezing in additional wild-card games never was part of the plan.

Under the existing schedule, the Thursday after the regular-season finale likely would be left open for tiebreaker or makeup games (ties for division titles will be determined by tiebreaker games, rather than head-to-head record, according to the Associated Press). The wild-card games would be Friday, and the Division Series would begin on Saturday.

Here’s where things gets sticky:

Ten of the 15 games on the final day of the regular season will be played at night. Three of those games — Rockies at Diamondbacks, Angels at Mariners, Giants at Dodgers — will begin in the Pacific Time Zone and likely end at around 1 a.m. ET.

Potential qualifiers on both coasts might need to travel across two or three time zones and play a makeup game or tiebreaker the next day, then fly back across the country for the wild-card round and all the way back again for the start of the Division Series.

The expanded format, designed to create more races, would increase the chances of uncertainty on the final day of the regular season — and the potential for tiebreakers. Teams might not want to move night games to the afternoon and risk losing revenue. And a tiebreaker or wild-card game that began on the west coast at 10 p.m. ET — a possibility depending upon the matchups — also would not be the best way to maximize TV ratings.

The best solution might simply be to wait one more year and implement the system fairly and properly. But union and management will meet again next week and try to make it all work for 2012 — if such a thing is even possible.