This is some really wild stuff, especially for a sport that tends to be awfully conservative with its major changes.
According to Joel Sherman of the New York Post, Major League Baseball is “seriously weighing a move from five to seven playoff teams in each league, beginning in 2022,” which, in isolation, is not so radical, given league expansion is probably coming, and the sport is trying to stave off further increases in competitive imbalance (i.e., more teams tanking because they aren’t expected to compete for a playoff spot). Three division winners, four Wild Cards.
We’ll get to how the seven teams would shake out in a moment, because I want to pause on the most radical part of the idea: According to the Post, as part of the new format, the team with the best record in each league would receive a first-round bye, but the next best division winner would get to pick their first round opponent from the bottom three Wild Cards. Then the other division winner would get to pick, and then the remaining two teams would play each other. There would be a TV event for the selections.
Yes. That’s wild.
So let’s use last year’s National League standings to offer an example.
- The Los Angeles Dodgers (106-56) won the NL West and had the NL’s best record. They would receive a first-round bye.
- The Atlanta Braves (97-65) have the next best record for a division winner, and would get to pick between the Brewers (89-73, WC2), Mets (86-76, WC3), and Diamondbacks (85-77, WC4). (The Cubs would’ve missed the playoffs by a game.)
- If the Braves picked the Diamondbacks, the Cardinals (91-71, won the NL Central), would get the next choice of the remaining teams, and then the last remaining bottom three Wild Card team would play the Nationals (93-69, WC1) in Washington.
Got that part?
Now back to the way the actual series play out.
This first “Wild Card/opponent-picking round” is neither a one-game playoff or five-game series; it would instead be a three-game series hosted entirely by the superior team.
Aside from the obvious financial/fan-related reasons for these changes, can you imagine a team like the Cubs strategically side-stepping the rival Cardinals to play a different opponent? Imagine if the Cardinals were the worst team by record, but the Cubs chose not to play them. Imagine if they were the best team and the Cubs chose to face them head on. Think of the strategy that would go into that (timing of pitchers, length of series, matchups, etc.). It would truly turn the postseason upside down.
And, of course, an expanded postseason would succeed in making the postseason realistic for more teams, which could/would/should discourage tanking and keep fans interested for longer. I know there’ll be a lot of pushback to this, particularly because baseball is not best-decided in three games, but if/when the league expands to 32 teams (probably within the next decade), playoff expansion will almost certainly be coming anyway. And that will necessarily mean some kind of short series or one-game playoffs for some of the teams.
We’ll have to digest this one. Read the Post report for more.
Brett Taylor contributed to this post.