BOSTON — Baseball got it right.

Major League Baseball will restructure its leagues and playoff format, perhaps as early as next season.

The Houston Astros will move to the AL West, creating a pair of 15-team leagues divided into three five-team divisions.

The bigger news will be the long-anticipated expansion of the playoff field. We’ve known it was coming, but we’ve been waiting to see exactly what the new format would be. The details came out last week.

Each league will now have an additional team making the postseason. This second wild-card team will play a one-game playoff with the other wild card, creating a dramatic start to the playoffs each fall.

This will create two major changes to the baseball regular season.

First, more cities will be involved in the playoff races, creating obvious excitement and increased attention to the sport. Second, and perhaps more significant, is that winning a division title becomes more important.

In recent years, we’ve seen numerous cases of two teams running away with a division, then resting players down the stretch. Making the playoffs has been the most important thing. Winning a division has been nice, but not vital.

Well, it will be vital now.

Two years ago, the Rays edged the Yankees by a game in the AL East. Since both were heading to the postseason, no one cared. In 2008, Tampa Bay had a two-game lead over the Sox, who didn’t do much to catch the Rays down the stretch.

Now those division races will be much more dramatic. Teams will do everything possible to take the division title and avoid a one-game showdown to start the postseason. It will create multi-layered races that should add drama to late-season games.

Some baseball people have expressed dissatisfaction about a one-game wild-card playoff. Fans should love it.

This past season, the Red Sox would’ve had one last chance to stop the September swoon with a final showdown against the Rays. In two of the previous three years, the Sox would’ve played the Yankees in a one-game, winner-take-all battle to start the playoffs.

We all remember the 1978 one-game playoff between the Red Sox and Yankees, the day that made Bucky Dent famous (or infamous, depending on whom you cheer for.) We remember it because there’s nothing more dramatic than one game to decide a season.

Every fall, the playoffs will begin with a game that has the magnitude of a Game 7. The survivor of that game will move on to play a rested division winner in the ALDS.

The wild card survivor will be at a competitive disadvantage after using its top pitchers in the wild card game. That makes the division title something worth fighting for.

There are some downsides to this plan, notably the added interleague play needed with an odd number of teams in each league. But given the options, this was the best way for the game to move forward and add interest.

Baseball, more than most sports, has resisted change over the years. This is change worth embracing.

Bud Selig and the game’s owners got it right, and both the regular season and postseason will be better because of it.


Tom Caron is the studio host for Red Sox broadcasts on the New England Sports Network. His column appears in the Press Herald on Tuesdays.