NEW YORK — The Braves are remembered for one of baseball’s epic collapses.
Too bad for Atlanta the playoffs weren’t expanded a year earlier.
Negotiators for baseball players and owners are working toward an agreement to increase the postseason field to 10 teams this season. They had hoped to reach a deal by Thursday, but both sides said talks could continue if they needed additional time to deal with the details of adding a second wild-card team in each league.
The sides spoke on condition of anonymity to The Associated Press because the talks have not been public.
If there had been additional wild-card teams last season, the Braves would have made the playoffs in the NL, while the Boston Red Sox would have qualified in the AL. Instead, each missed the postseason by a game, both going down with historic September swoons.
“I would’ve taken it last year,” Atlanta manager Fredi Gonzalez said Thursday.
The sides have said for weeks a deal is likely. When players and owners signed their agreement for a new labor contract in November, the section covering the postseason established a March 1 goal for deciding whether the playoffs would increase by two teams for 2012 or 2013.
The deal would establish a new one-game, wild-card round in each league between the teams with the best records who are not division winners, meaning a third-place team could win the World Series.
Don’t count on it, said Braves pitcher Tim Hudson.
The wild-card winner would face a major disadvantage going through the rest of the playoffs, according to Hudson. Last season, St. Louis passed the Braves for the wild card on the final day and went on to capture the World Series. Hudson said it would’ve been much harder for the Cardinals or the Braves to advance if they had played an extra game against each other first.
“The only good thing about it is one more team (in each league) gets in the playoffs,” he said. “But it totally handicaps the wild-card team. Both teams will probably have to expend their best pitcher to win that game. Plus, it’s another day they have to use their bullpen. Even if you get by that one game, the chances of winning the next round are not very good.”
The Cardinals became the fifth wild-card team to win the World Series since the playoff field doubled in 1995, going from two division winners in each league to three division winners and a wild card. Other wild-card champions were the Florida Marlins in 1997 and 2003, Anaheim in 2002 and Boston in 2004.
Adding two more playoffs teams this year has been complicated because the regular-season schedule was drafted last spring and summer, and the extra game has to be put in place in a manner that doesn’t disrupt the World Series schedule. In a further complication, the sides reached a consensus that ties for division titles would be broken on the field with a tiebreaker game under the new format, and not by head-to-head record.
Head-to-head record has been used since 1995 to determine first place if both teams are going to the postseason. But the sides decided with the start of a one-game, winner-take-all wild-card round, the difference between first place and a wild-card berth is too important to decide with a formula and that a tiebreaker game should be played.
Late last month, Commissioner Bud Selig said playoff expansion for this season was on track.
“Clubs really want it. I don’t think I’ve ever seen an issue that the clubs want more than to have the extra wild card this year,” he said. “We’re working on dates right now. That’ll all take place. It looks to me like we’ll have it because I’ve told everybody we have to have it. It’ll be exciting. One-game playoff — it will start the playoffs in a very exciting manner.”
Detroit Tigers manager Jim Leyland said he favors an expanded postseason field, although he’s not excited about a one-game playoff at the start.
“It’s possible that somebody could win a division with 84 wins and some other team could get 97 wins and finish behind a team that won 98 — and play one game,” he said. “So it’s never going to be perfect. But at the end of the day, I’m for whatever the commissioner, and more importantly, whatever the fans want. That’s what I think is the best way to handle our game.”
Braves second baseman Dan Uggla echoed Leyland’s sentiments about a single playoff game, preferring a best-of-three format.
“I’m not a fan of it,” Uggla said. “I don’t think if two teams are good enough to make the playoffs that it should be decided by one game like that.”
According to the memorandum of agreement, the commissioner’s office was to give the players’ association a modified postseason schedule by Feb. 1.
“The association shall have 30 days after receiving the modified 2012 postseason schedule from the office of the commissioner to determine whether it will grant its consent,” the agreement states. “Such consent shall not be unreasonably withheld.”
As part of the labor deal, the Houston Astros will switch to the American League for 2013, creating two 15-team leagues with three divisions each. Players wanted the change to equalize the chances for making the playoffs for every division.
Eight of 30 baseball teams have made the playoffs under the format that began in 1995, a year later than intended because of a strike that wiped out the end of the ’94 season. The postseason included just the league winners from 1903-68, then increased to four teams in 1969 after the leagues split into divisions.
In the NFL, 12 of 32 teams make the playoffs. In both the NBA and NHL, 16 of 30 teams advance to the postseason.
Gonzalez, who considers himself a traditionalist, is willing to give the proposed new format a chance. At first, he wasn’t a fan of the current wild-card system but now believes it has added excitement to the game.
“That turned out to be a positive thing for baseball and kind of kept the hype going for some of those teams that were still in it in September,” Gonzalez said. “We’ll see how it works.”