Starting this year, a slow start won’t cost the Richmond Flying Squirrels or any other Eastern League team an opportunity to qualify for the postseason. The EL announced Thursday that it adopted a split-season format for advancement to the playoffs. In so doing, the EL joins every other minor league below the Triple-A level.

The 12-team EL is divided into six-team divisions. First-half divisional winners will automatically move on to the playoffs, regardless of second-half records. So will second-half divisional winners, regardless of first-half records.

In the event the same team finishes in first place in its division in both halves of the season, the second playoff spot for that division will go to the team with the best full-season record. The opening round of the postseason will match the first-half winner from a division and the second-half winner from that division. 

Prior to Thursday’s modification, the top two teams in each EL division went to the playoffs and those qualifiers were determined by full-season standings. 

“We feel our fans will enjoy the reset button, record-wise, in the middle of the year and the playoff races two different times of the season that it will manufacture,” said Todd Parnell, the Squirrels’ vice president/COO.

The other Double-A leagues, the Southern League and the Texas League, and all lower-tier leagues for years have used the split-season setup, which allows a team that experienced a subpar first half to maintain a goal of advancing to the playoffs via second-half achievement. 

The split-season approach recognizes the impact of minor league teams’ changing personnel — through call-ups, demotions, injuries and other factors — and provides second-half excitement among fan bases whose teams were, in practical terms, eliminated from the playoff picture by the season’s midpoint.

Joe McEacharn, the EL president since 2003, said splitting the season was periodically discussed in previous years, but most major league organizations affiliated with EL teams had preferred the full-season approach to playoff qualification because that’s the way it’s done in the big leagues.
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