The carping already has begun about the 2012 playoff format -- Golly gee, the higher seed has to play the first two games on the road? -- so we might as well issue an official edict right now to all potential Division Series teams and their fans: quit your whining. Please keep in mind two facts when it comes to the 2-3 LDS format this year:
• It's a one-year anomaly caused by shoehorning the wild card shootout games into a postseason calendar that already had been set. Next year MLB goes back to the 2-2-1 format.
• It's been done before -- and without great harm to the better team.
A 2-3 format was used in the first three seasons of LDS play (1995-97). The team that started on the road (that is, the one with homefield advantage) went 7-5 in series play (.583).
But back then, the higher seed did not automatically get the homefield advantage, which were pre-arranged. When the homefield advantage also happened to go to the team with the better record, that team was 4-2 in series play (.667). Not a big deal.
So prepare yourself to hear the stories about how higher seeds face the "pressure" of playing the first two games on the road -- and about how they could be staring at a 2-0 deficit before they even play a home game. Disregard such alarmists.
The fact is homefield advantage isn't as powerful in postseason baseball as in other sports. Home teams in the wild card era have won 54.2 percent of postseason games, virtually the same rate as they did from 1903-1993 (54.4 percent). What matters more is that the number one seeds in each league will get three days off to rest and align their pitching while their opponent, the wild card shootout survivor, will have needed to burn their best available pitcher just to get into the LDS. Now that's a real advantage.
Remember back in spring training and April when several closers were hit with injuries and people wondered how their teams could possibly carry on without them? Well, the 2012 season is more proof that the closer position is overrated -- at least as a job that only a few stout fellows with "heart" can do well. You can't replace aces and you can't replace All-Star shortstops, but the closer position is such a specialty position -- like kickers in the NFL -- that yes, you can carry on with replacements just fine.
Look at the 10 best teams in baseball (ranked by record). Only three of them got here with the same closer as when they reported to spring training camp. Seven of the 10 best teams in baseball had to go to Plan B, C or even D and didn't miss a beat. The Reds (Ryan Madson), Giants (Brian Wilson) and Yankees (Mariano Rivera) all lost their closer for virtually the entire season and all are in first place.
As setup relievers do more and more of the heavy lifting, leaving pampered closers to work almost exclusively in the ninth inning with no inherited runners, the closing position has become more about the theatre of the job than the difficulty of it -- sort of like vice president of the United States. Here's a look at how the top 10 teams in baseball addressed the closer position:
1. Nationals: Drew Storen (hurt) to Brad Lidge to Henry Rodriguez to Tyler Clippard
2. Reds: Ryan Madson (hurt) to Sean Marshall to Aroldis Chapman
3. Rangers: Joe Nathan
4. Giants: Brian Wilson (hurt) to Santiago Casilla, Sergio Romo and Javier Lopez
5. Yankees: Mariano Rivera (hurt) to David Robertson to Rafael Soriano
6. Braves: Craig Kimbrel
7. Orioles: Jim Johnson
8. Athletics: Brian Fuentes to Ryan Cook to Grant Balfour
9. White Sox: Matt Thornton to Addison Reed
10. Angels: Jordan Walden to Scott Downs to Ernesto Frieri
Mike Trout, 21, and Bryce Harper, 19, were teammates on the Arizona Fall League's Scottsdale Scorpions last fall. They each made the All-Star Game this year and each might win their league's respective Rookie of the Year Award. Now MLB officials would love to see them in the same outfield and batting 1-2 on the same team next year: Team USA in the World Baseball Classic.
No official invitations have gone out yet, and preliminary rosters are not expected due until early January, but MLB officials are excited about the possibility of Trout and Harper on the roster of USA manager Joe Torre, according to a high-ranking baseball source.
Just think about the other outfield options for Torre and USA Baseball: Matt Kemp, Ryan Braun, Andrew McCutchen, Josh Hamilton, Giancarlo Stanton, Jay Bruce, Jason Heyward, Justin Upton and Matt Holliday, just to name a few. In the last WBC, in 2009, the Team USA roster included only four outfielders: Braun, Adam Dunn, Curtis Granderson and Shane Victorino.