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Every week, our panel of sports fans discusses a topic of the moment. For today's conversation, Jake Simpson (writer, The Atlantic), Patrick Hruby (writer, ESPN and The Atlantic), and Hampton Stevens (writer, ESPN and The Atlantic), talk about the new MLB season.


Hi, everyone,

I know I can't speak for the whole country, but in the Northeast (and probably everywhere else), spring has come. In fact, it's been here for a month. So I've been even more impatient than usual to welcome my favorite sport back to the fold. Yes, folks, it's baseball season!

There are no shortage of storylines heading into the 2012 season. Two superteams out in the AL West, the one-strike-from-a-title Rangers and the Angels a la Albert Pujols. Bobby Valentine managing in Boston, where there's no shortage of funny disguises to try. My beloved Yankees, trying for No. 28. And of course there's the glut of potential superstars ready for a breakout year, from Cubs' shortstop Starlin Castro to Royals' first baseman Eric Hosmer, who hit a home run at Yankee Stadium last year that may still be going.

For me, though, the biggest change is the obvious one: the league adding another playoff team in each league. For a full breakdown of the new system go here, but the Cliff Notes are that the three division winners get a bye, and the TWO wild card teams have a play-in game to determine the fourth Division Series participant in each league.

The ramifications to pennant races, September strategy, and fan interest are staggering. Will the format draw in a larger following because more fanbases will be involved? Will people love the one-and-done playoff game? Will it initially be viewed as kabuki theater, especially if (gulp) there's a tie for the second wild card spot? And is there no sanctity for a good division title race anymore?

In the end, it's hard to be against the change. Just one-third of MLB teams will make the playoffs in 2012, less than the NFL (37.5 percent) and way less than the NBA and NHL (53.3 percent). But it will fascinating to see what growing pains arise come October.

Are you in the mood for a day at the ballpark, Patrick? And what are you excited for?

–Jake

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Patrick Hruby, Jake Simpson, and Hampton Stevens 

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