One of the biggest issues of this format was the fact that the first half winners were going to the postseason and needed not to play the second half games. The Yankees, Athletics, Phillies and Dodgers were guaranteed spots in the division series and it didn't matter how they did in the second half. Of course, had any of the before mentioned teams won the division title in the second half as well, they would have gotten a bye in the first round of the 1981 postseason. That did not happen, as the Athletics finished 2nd, the Phillies 3rd, Dodgers 4th and the Yankees 6th. This cleared way for the Brewers, Royals, Expos and Astros to make it into the postseason as well. The Yankees would beat the Brewers, the Athletics swept the Royals, setting up an ALCS of Yankees-Athletics, where the Yankees won the AL Pennant. In the NL, the Expos beat the Phillies with the Dodgers finishing off the Astros, setting up a Expos-Dodgers NLCS where the Dodgers won the NL Pennant. In fact the only 1st half division winner not to make the LCS was the Phillies.
The MLBPA and MLB agreed to the split season. However, for the exception of the Expos going to the NLCS, the rest of the LCS competitors were determined by the 1st half winners. Another suggestion would have been to the have the teams with the best overall record make the postseason. This would have severely affected the standings and the teams in the LCS. In fact, neither of the World Series teams, the Yankees or Dodgers, would have qualified for the playoffs with this format. Only the Athletics, who won the AL West in the first half of the season, and the Brewers who won the AL East in the 2nd half of the season, would have made the playoffs.
Two teams in the National League had the privilege of finishing with the best records in their respective divisions. In a combined season, the Cardinals (59-43) and the Reds (66-42) would have been division champions. In fact, the Reds finished with the best record in all of baseball but did not make the playoffs. The Cardinals were in the first season with Whitey Herzog as manager and GM. Garry Templeton was the starting SS and for the most part, this was a veteran team that to that point, was not Herzog's team with his stamp on it.
The Reds, still led by John McNamara, had won the NL West in 1979, losing to the Pirates in the 1979 NLCS. Tom Seaver was 14-2, leading the NL in wins and finished 2nd in the Cy Young voting to Fernando Valenzuela of the Dodgers. Though many of the key contributors of the big Red machine were gone, Johnny Bench, George Foster and Dave Concepcion were still around. Overall, they finished 4 games ahead of the Dodgers in the standings. The Cardinals finished ahead of the Expos by 4 games as well, but the Expos played 6 more games. I thought the Reds had a little bit more pitching, so I would give them an edge in a NLCS matchup against St Louis. Perhaps six games with Seaver closing it out.
On the AL side, there did not seem to be a stronger team during the duration of the season than the Oakland Athletics. Led by Billy Martin and a rookie named Rickey Henderson, this team seemed to be the best all around team in the league. The Brewers, still managed by Buck Rodgers, were an offensive heavy teams who had many of the same top offensive players that led them to the World Series in 1982. Pete Vukovich led the team with a 14-4 record and newly acquired closer Rollie Fingers only finished with a 1.04 ERA, a league leading 28 saves and won the AL Cy Young and MVP. Though the Athletics got passed the Royals, I would have favored the Brewers to win the series. The Brewers could hit and a couple of the Athletics top pitchers Steve McCatty and Rick Langford, were starting to wear down. I'd pick a 7 game series, with the understanding that the series could go either way.
If the 1981 World Series was Reds-Brewers, the Brewers would have gotten to 2 straight World Series. The Reds would have had one more postseason appearance under the big Red machine team. But there would have been no Fernando-mania. A lot of what made that season so special was the performance of Fernando Valenzuela. The Dodgers had the reigning NL Rookie of the Year in Steve Howe. Valenzuela won both the ROY and NY Cy Young and was exciting to watch, especially in the postseason. I am glad the season turned out how it did, especially with the Dodgers getting their revenge on the NY Yankees, who had beat them in the 1977 and 1978 fall classics.