The reigning World Series Champion Los Angeles Dodgers have 4 MVPs, 3 Cy Young Award winners in their rotation, and won 106 games this year.
Wednesday night, they could lose one game on Wednesday and their entire season would come to an end.
Their 106-56 record was the second-best in the entire MLB. The only problem? It wasn’t even good enough to win their own division. The darling, out-of-nowhere NL West rivals, the San Francisco Giants, won 107, took the pennant, and now the Dodgers will face the Cardinals in a one-game playoff game. Oh yeah, and the Cardinals are coming off of a 17-game win streak and will have Adam Wainwright pitching, one of the best pitchers of this generation.
The MLB has long looked at expanding the playoffs- literally the first day of the shortened 2020 season they decided to change the format from ten teams to SIXTEEN. The premise that you can play a full marathon of a 162 game season as one of the best teams in the league and have all of that come down to one matchup against a team that may have just gotten hot at the right time of the year is a WILD premise (but I guess that’s why it’s called the wild card game).
So, with that being said, does the MLB Playoff format need to be altered or restructured? Let’s evaluate it.
The Importance of the Pennant Race
There is a particular pageantry and sense of pride that comes with winning your division in baseball that needs to remain in the game. You play 76 games against these teams throughout the year, so if you have the best record against all of them, that should matter when it comes to the postseason regardless if you’re one of the best teams or not. The automatic bids for winning your division and taking the pennant race needs to stay.
Are there too many, too little, or just enough playoff teams?
It should be difficult to make the postseason. That’s what makes the drama since there are so many games throughout the year! This season was a bit of an outlier with the potential for a four-way tie with Toronto and Seattle trying to get into the mix, but in years past, the races have been wrapped up outside of 1-2 teams on a magical run.
There aren’t enough good teams to expand the playoffs. It might make more teams buy at the trade deadline to try and go on a run to make the postseason, but that DID happen this year and those teams, such as the Phillies, the Mets, or the Padres, still ended up on a losing streak! After the Cardinals made the second NL Wild Card, there were only two other teams in the entire National League that finished with a record above .500: the Reds and the Phillies. We don’t need teams with losing or mediocre records making the playoffs. It’s not good baseball.
If baseball had expanded playoffs this year, there would not have been the game 162 madness that had Seattle and Toronto going all-hands-on-deck for the final week. The end of the regular season would not have been watchable baseball to the mass majority of the media. 5 in the American League and 5 in the National League puts the MLB in the sweet spot of just the right amount of competitiveness with the outlet for teams in a tough division to make the postseason.
Is the one game Wild Card Game format fair?
No, it’s not. It’s VERY fun, and creates a lot of drama, but it’s in no way fair. But hey, few things in sports are.
So, what should the format be?
Let’s take a look at what we’ve got:
-The right amount of teams making the postseason at 5 and 5 in each league
-Division winners should matter
-The current state of the Wild Card play-in is unfair
Here’s what could realistically work for baseball to try something new that isn’t as irrational as throwing out a 16-team format that they did last year: keep the division winners in each league for automatic bids, but reseed the playoffs by best overall record as opposed to being forced into the play-in if you don’t win the pennant. That would mean in the National League, the Dodgers would automatically be in the NLDS in the spot that the Braves currently occupy. The Braves won 16 games less than the Dodgers this season but are already in better position to make the World Series as a division-winner. So, in the NL, as opposed to the current seeding of:
1 Giants (107-55)
2 Brewers (95-67)
3 Braves (88-73)
WC1 Dodgers (106-56)
WC2 Cardinals (90-72)
It would actually be:
Reward the teams for winning as much as possible during the regular season. It should be a triumph what the Dodgers did this year with a record better than everyone else but one team, not a tragedy.
In terms of the one game wild card, the drama is spectacular. All eyes are on the one single game that can spark a postseason run to the World Series, much like the 2019 Champion Nationals, who won their play-in game.
But what format is baseball played all year? Series.
It doesn’t have to be a full slate that the rest of the postseason so the drama and the eyes are still feasting on the great stakes, but a best two out of three series instead of the one-gamer would be more fair and uniform to the regular season, where entire pitching rotations, staffs, and roster depths to win series are what determine success while also maintaining great stakes.
Think about it: your team loses the first one, the next night it’s STILL win-or-go-home time and the nerves are at an all-time high.
We don’t need expanded playoffs to fix the playoffs, but it can definitely be cleaned up, MLB.