I’ll explain the MLB Cup next, since the League Championship follows a familiar structure. This is a little different. Taking a page out of the UEFA Champions League, the MLB Cup is a season-long competition that is based on the prior year’s league result.
A “Group Stage”
Teams are grouped into three tiers of ten teams based on their prior finish. We’ll call the top tier the Elites, the second tier Contenders, and the third tier Regulars.
The MLB Elites would be the only teams playing for the MLB Cup in a given season, having already earned their spot in the competition. They would play a group stage early in the calendar year against fellow Elites in two regions of five teams each, based on geography.
If you take the 2010 MLB standings, you end up with regions that look like this (2010 wins):
East: Philadelphia Phillies (97), Tampa Bay Rays (96), New York Yankees(95), Atlanta Braves (91), Boston Red Sox (89)
West: Minnesota Twins (94), San Francisco Giants (92), Cincinnati Reds (91), Texas Rangers (90), San Diego Padres (90)
The regions function as a “group stage” of the competition, where teams play six games against every other in-region team (three home, three away), for a total of 24 games in eight series.
The Regional Championship is a unique series designed to finalize the group stage with an appropriate regional champion. The top two teams in the region will meet for a series that functions like a short pennant race. The leading team after 24 games will take its advantage in wins and divide by two (rounding up) to determine how many wins the trailing team will need in order to win the region. Then, we add four games to make it a proper length.
Taking our example from the previous post, suppose the East finished with the following group standings.
16 – 8 Tampa Bay Rays
14 – 10 New York Yankees
12 – 12 Philadelphia Phillies
10 – 14 Atlanta Braves
8 – 16 Boston Red Sox
The Regional Championship will be contested between the Rays and Yankees, with the Rays taking a one-game lead into the series: 1 = (16 – 14) / 2. The Yankees will need to win five in order to take the region, while the Rays need just four.
This series will alternate two games at each home site, starting with the lower finisher, until a possible clinching game is reached. All clinching games are played at the home site of the team with a chance to clinch, or at the site of the previously-leading team if both teams can clinch.
The beauty of this format is that not only do we get a lot of games between contending teams, but also we get a real head-to-head element of finality to the regional competition. Next is the MLB Cup Series.
MLB Cup Series
The regional champions will face off in the MLB Cup Series, the most prestigious head-to-head event in the new version of Major League Baseball. Since seven games are not enough to separate the teams, we will play nine, which is a little better while still keeping the total number of games for each team within reason.
The MLB Cup Series will take place over the last two weeks of the year, with the first four games played two at each home site. The final five games warrant an “event” atmosphere and will be played at a neutral site, along with the championship series for the two other MLB Cup tiers (possible 15 games).
This is admittedly a bit awkward for fan scheduling, since there’s no way to know whether there will be one or five games until the first four are played, but with three separate series being played out at one site, the thinking is that fans who make it a point to attend will get a several-game fix for their effort. The home fans also get their chance to participate, with two guaranteed home games.
The next post will address the more-familiar structure of the MLB League Championship (regular season) and how it will relate to the new MLB Cup.