Atlantic League Division Swap
The Atlantic League of Professional Baseball began this week with a bit of news on Monday morning. In case you missed it, the Somerset Patriots and Southern Maryland Blue Crabs will be swapping divisions beginning with the 2014 season. Somerset, who the Ducks defeated last season to win the Atlantic League championship, is heading to the Liberty Division to join the Ducks, Bridgeport Bluefish and Camden Riversharks. Southern Maryland will take Somerset’s vacated spot in the Freedom Division after spending their first six seasons in the Liberty Division.
Here is the reasoning for the swap from League President Peter Kirk: “This division alignment prepares the Atlantic League for the creation of the Western Division as teams are added in Texas, and other markets, over the next few years. It will also create a well-balanced travel schedule and continue to enhance fun, local rivalries amongst the four Liberty Division teams which are within close proximity of one another.”
The Atlantic League has been pretty tight-lipped about their expansion plans in terms of specific cities and dates when new teams would come into play. Regardless, it is obvious that new teams are on the horizon and this is a step towards that. Geographically, it makes perfect sense. Somerset and Camden are now division rivals located in the same state approximately 70 miles from each other. Long Island and Bridgeport have been rivals since the Ducks entered the League in 2000, separated by a 14-mile expanse across the Long Island Sound from Port Jefferson aboard the ferry. In the Freedom Division, Southern Maryland is now grouped with York and Lancaster, both of which are a closer drive than any of the Liberty Division squads.
Division rivalries hold a bit more meaning in the Major Leagues than the Atlantic League though for one reason in particular. In MLB, one team will play their division rivals 19 times during the course of the season compared to just six or seven games against the remaining teams in the American or National League. However, in the Atlantic League, each team plays the other seven 20 times apiece to fill out the 140-game schedule. Distances and classic playoff match-ups play much more into division rivalries in the ALPB than frequency of games played. However, should the league expand and include a Western Division, the possibility exists for a more balanced schedule with more games against divisional opponents and less against the rest of the League.
How does this change impact the Ducks? Most notably, if the teams remain on a similar level to how they performed a year ago, it makes Long Island’s road to a three-peat tougher. Ultimately, the Ducks did defeat the Patriots in Championship Series, but the Patriots won 90 games in 2013 and Long Island would now have to potentially face them in the first round of the playoffs rather than Southern Maryland, who the Ducks have now defeated three consecutive seasons in the Division Series. Had Somerset played in the Liberty Division last year and the records played out the same way, the Ducks would not have been a playoff team. SugarLand and Somerset would have won both halves in their respective divisions, creating the rare double wild card scenario. In that case, Lancaster (72-67) and York (65-75) or Southern Maryland (65-74) would have earned the final two playoff spots. The Blue Crabs would have needed to make up one game to get to 140 played for the season and determine the second wild card. Regardless, last year’s eventual champion would have missed the playoffs had the divisions been aligned like they are now.
In fact, there have been two other times since the Liberty and Freedom Divisions came about that the eventual champion would have missed the playoffs entirely. In 2010, the Riversharks would have been the first half Liberty Division champions at 39-31 while Southern Maryland would have won the Freedom Division at 41-29. York, who won the Freedom in the first half at 40-30 before going on to win the first of their back-to-back Atlantic League titles, would have been left out of the postseason. In 2008, the Somerset Patriots and Camden Riversharks finished with identical 40-30 records, but both made the playoffs since they were in opposite divisions. Had they been in the same division, Camden would have earned the playoff berth by virtue of having a 6-4 record in the first half against Somerset, and Newark would have won the first half in the Freedom Division. That makes it three of the last six Atlantic League champions that would have missed the playoffs entirely had Somerset and Southern Maryland been in the opposite division.
There have also been a few other years where a different team would have made the playoffs than one who ended up being in. In 2012, Bridgeport would have qualified for the postseason over Southern Maryland had the divisions been aligned like they will be in 2014. At 36-33, they would have had a better second half record than Long Island, Camden or Somerset. Southern Maryland’s 39-31 mark would have come up short of York’s 43-27 record, and they would have missed the postseason. In 2009, the Newark Bears would have won the second half title in the Freedom Division at 39-31. Somerset had won both halves that year, but were they in the Liberty Division, Southern Maryland and Newark would have been the two half season champions in the Freedom Division, the Patriots would have won both halves in the Liberty, and the Ducks would have earned the wild card spot. Long Island would have played Somerset instead of Southern Maryland in the first round, and who knows how the postseason would have played out? 2011 is the only season since 2008 where the four postseason teams would have remained the same even if the divisions were aligned as they will be next year.
So, what do you think of the decision to swap Somerset and Southern Maryland? Does this hurt the Ducks or give them the opportunity to develop a stronger rivalry with them after last year’s thrilling Championship Series? Are you happy that Long Island would very likely play a team other than Southern Maryland in the first round of the playoffs should they qualify after facing them three years in a row? Or, are you sad that the Ducks likely won’t be facing Somerset again in the Championship Series in the foreseeable future? Let us know your thoughts in the comments section.
Posted on November 19, 2013, in Ducks News and tagged Atlantic League, Bridgeport Bluefish, Camden Riversharks, Freedom Division, Lancaster Barnstormers, Liberty Division, Long Island Ducks, Peter Kirk, Playoffs, Realignment, Somerset Patriots, Southern Maryland Blue Crabs, Sugar Land Skeeters, York Revolution. Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.