Bud Selig (feat. Major League Baseball) really wants to replicate the magic of last season by expanding the playoffs and baking a one-game playoff into the postseason. It looks like he's going to get his way, with an announcement today - barring any last-minute torpedoes.
Even though I don't like the idea of a one-game playoff, I'm OK with this proposal on balance. It puts a greater premium on winning a division, which is still a fundamental unit of measurement in baseball and with which MLB creates some competitive balance. If you can do better than you most immediate competition over a 162-game schedule, then you can avoid playing an extra game before the divisional series. You might also end up playing a team that is coming off a must-win game having burned their ace.
Adding intrigue to September baseball and an extra spot to the playoffs are worthy goals. It doesn't bother me that it downgrades the wildcard, given that the wildcard team has a little too much cache. Currently, if they're the in the same division as the NL's best record, they avoid playing a #1 seed in the first round. In that case, the wildcard can avoid the hardest pairing, despite their status as the low team on the pole.
There's a better way to do this that avoids a one-game playoff. It probably involves more playoff games or some kind of round-robin format.
Anyways, I'm OK with this as a first step. But how will it affect the Reds?
Without even having to send away more prospects, the Reds' chances of making the playoffs increases with this move (which may or may not be final by the time you read this). Depending on what you think of their likelihood to finish first in the Central, however, their chances of having to win a game for the privilege of playing a 5-game series may have increased.
Over the last five seasons, the average number of wins for the NL's next best record after the division winners and wild card (now the second wild card) has been 88.8 - and it's been a pretty tight cluster (88, 89, 88, 90, 89).
Replacement Level Yankees Blog projections put the Reds at 87 wins using CAIRO (and second-place in the Central) and 89 wins, taking first place using Marcel. In either case, using their run environment, the Reds make the playoffs. It's likely, with anything less than 90 wins in a real life season, that the Reds would have to make the playoffs via Wild Card. Around 87-89 wins seems to match up with some gut-level reactions, which would put the Reds just shy of being a #1 Wild Card team.
I would say the team is right on the cusp of safely being a playoff team in either format. Without having a more compelling case for 90 wins or more, the Reds get something of a mixed bag: they're more likely to make the playoffs in the New World Series Order, but their odds of playing a one game elimination flashback-to-'99 increases.
If you have the Reds above 90 wins, this only gives them a slight buffer at the expense of a play-in game. If you had them in the upper-80s, this probably makes them a lot more likely to playoffs in the first place - which is a good trade.