In 2013, the Houston Astros—with a winning percentage this season that rivals batting averages—will join the AL West and restore balance to the MLB Empire. With 15 teams in each league now, this move requires a schedule that either includes interleague play on a weekly basis, or gives a few teams unusual days off. Weekly interleague play is a discussion for another time, but what interests me now is how this will affect the AL West and our playoff chances.
Basic logic suggests that it’s harder to make the playoffs when competing against four other teams in place of three other teams. In fact, in the long run, Seattle’s playoff chances just dropped from nearly 40% to about 33% (long, long run)*. However, as most humans do, I enjoy the myopic perspective whenever it pleases me. And in the next few years, the Astros are going to suck, and that is going to be a good thing for the Mariners.
In 2012, the Mariners played each of the other three teams in the AL West 19 times for a total of 57 division games. The AL West proved to be the best division in the league during the regular season, and Seattle didn’t even get to play itself. So that’s a lot of games against good competition. For comparison, the five-team divisions in the AL played each of the other four teams 18 times for a total of 72 division games. So if the AL West’s schedule changes to something like what we’ve seen in the Central or the East, Seattle will play one less game against each of Oakland, Anaheim** and Texas, fifteen less games against the rest of the American League, and eighteen more games against the lowly Houston Astros. Advantage? I think so.
Whoa there, Matty! Not so fast. This advantage would then extend to every current AL West member, right? Touché, touché. Oakland, Anaheim, and Texas are definitely not complaining either, so the advantage lies not in an AL West team’s path to a division title, but in its likelihood to capture the wildcard slots. Other AL teams will likely only get to face the Astros seven or eight times, while the current subscribers to the AL West schedule get those precious 18 matchups with the best JV team around.
Since the Astros pose no threat to the division title in next couple seasons, and they effectively ease up the schedule for the M’s, A’s and Rangers, this move should improve the Mariners’ chances at the playoffs—specifically a wildcard spot—a little bit in 2013.
*The current 38.6% estimate is based on my formula (0.25)(1.0) + (0.75)(0.18), while the 33% comes from the newly balanced 15-team league with 5 playoff spots (5/15).
**There is only one team in Major League Baseball that plays in Los Angeles, and it does not play in the American League West .