With roughly a month remaining in the baseball season, it is clear that, at least for 2014, there has been a geographical shift in the game's balance of power. If the season were to end today, four California teams would be assured of one of baseball's 10 post-season spots, while another West Coast team still has a chance for the second wild card in the AL. Equally significantly, no team from Boston, New York or Philadelphia would make the post-season. The last time none of those three northeastern cities all missed the post-season was 1992. That was also the last year that only four teams made the playoffs.
A post-season that is dominated by West Coast teams and with only one East Coast team, the Nationals, would likely lead to poor television ratings as even teams like the Dodgers, Angels and Giants do not have national fan bases approaching those of the Red Sox or Yankees. Low television ratings for the World Series, only few months after a World Cup final that was watched by roughly 30 million Americans, would set off another round of hand-wringing about the future of baseball. There is nothing that MLB can do about this now, but it would also be a mistake to see this development as purely negative.
As the Derek Jeter retirement tour stumbles to the finish line, almost certainly without a post-season encore for the aging Yankee captain, the Jeter-Rivera era of Yankee dominance, or even relevance, is finally winding down. Jeter has been the face of baseball, and even more notably of post-season baseball, for more than a decade, but with the Yankees, another post-season spending spree notwithstanding, still lacking a nucleus around which to build their next period of even solid contention, it is very clear that there is space for something new to dominate the post-season narrative and image.
An all-West Coast World Series, a distinct possibility at this point, would present an image of baseball that is young, new and forward-looking, despite the inconvenient time zone for many in the East Coast. The two Bay Area teams do not have the major stars of the other three West Coast teams in contention, but the Giants are building a national following and with two World Series wins in recent years, would feature several familiar and well liked players. Catcher Buster Posey is a possible successor to Derek Jeter for the unofficial face of baseball. Pitchers Sergio Romo and Tim Lincecum are dynamic and excellent media personalities, although erratic on the mound. Infielder Pablo Sandoval is one of the most likable players around who has already made his mark on the World Series. The real possibility of the Giants and Dodgers meeting in the NLCS for the first time ever would be more dramatic taking, with apologies to the Yankees and Red Sox, baseball's oldest and best rivalry to a new level.
The A's and Mariners feature some of the best players in the game, such as Seattle's Robinson Cano and pitcher Felix Hernandez. The A's do not have any players who are as well known, although Josh Donaldson is one of the best in the game, but have the only recent general manager about whom a movie was made. Clearly, if any of these teams make it to the World Series, there will be no shortage of story lines or way to excite fans.
One the most interesting story lines that could emerge this post-season would be if, for the first time ever, MLB had an all Southern California World Series. This could well happen as the Angels and Dodgers may be the best teams in their respective leagues. Both the Dodgers and Angels have numerous stars who are known nationally including Albert Pujols, Josh Hamilton, Mike Trout, Clayton Kershaw, Hanley Ramirez, Yasiel Puig and Matt Kemp. Although it might make this Giants fan of almost 40 years sick to his stomach to watch these two teams in the World Series, it would be good for the game.
Trout and Kershaw are the best player and pitcher of their generation. They are also still not as well known nationally as they could be. A World Series in which these two generational talents played against each other would be exciting for all fans to watch, but could solidify these two players as the face of baseball for the next generation.
The 2015 post-season will have a very different feel than most recent post-seasons. The weather will be better, the time zones will create challenges, and many of the faces not so familiar. MLB should recognize the West Coast post-season for the opportunity it is, and for the shifting balance in baseball that it reflects, and promote it accordingly. MLB should also consider the radical idea of scheduling a few World Series games, if indeed it is an all-West Coast World Series, in the daytime so that fans in the East Coast can see the whole game too.