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Max Scherzer says MLB should try a round-robin tournament if they expand the postseason

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This is intriguing. How might it work?

Photo by G Fiume/Getty Images

There are many ideas floating around for MLB’s postseason. It has been at 10 teams since 2012, except for 2020, when the pandemic-shortened season brought a 16-team October tournament. That seemed like too many teams to some, but when it was over the best regular-season teams in each league met in the World Series, and the previous rounds provided some fun and compelling baseball (well, except for the Cubs, who went down pretty easily in their Wild Card Series loss to the Marlins).

It’s pretty clear that MLB wants more teams in the postseason. More teams = more games = more money for owners. MLB owners wanted more postseason clubs this year, but the deal they offered to players wasn’t agreed to, so this year’s postseason will again have just 10 teams.

Many baseball purists like fewer teams in the postseason, as opposed to the 16 teams in the NBA and NHL, essentially half the league. (The NHL used to be much worse — their first 16-team playoff was in 1980, when the league had just 21 teams.) Ten teams seems a reasonable number for a 30-team MLB, but I can see the desire to add some teams to the mix. Also, eventually MLB will expand to 32 teams, and at that point more postseason clubs will almost certainly be added. The key, if this is indeed done, is to do it in a way that doesn’t devalue the regular season.

That’s why this idea from Nationals righthander Max Scherzer, written up by Jesse Dougherty in the Washington Post, is quite intriguing to me:

Scherzer has an idea of how to add spots and, in his view, not totally undermine the importance of a 162-game season.

The gist is to replace the wild-card game and Division Series with a round-robin tournament. Scherzer doesn’t have every detail worked out. His initial structure, though, includes six teams in each league — the three division winners and three wild-card clubs — for two weeks of round-robin play. Then the top two finishers in each round-robin meet in the Championship Series. Then, per usual, the winners of each Championship Series advance to the World Series.

“There are so many ways you could do this,” Scherzer, 36, told The Washington Post last week. “But at the end of the day, the integrity of the [round-robin] format holds true better than a three-game series.”

As noted, Scherzer doesn’t have specific details for something like this and no specific tournament details were mentioned in the article, though there was this idea:

If there were six playoff teams in each league, and each team played each other twice, that’s 10 games to fit in before the middle of October. Room for travel days is required, too. In 2019, the last year with MLB’s usual playoff format, the regular season ended Sept. 29 and the NLCS started Oct. 11. That’s only 12 days to squeeze in round-robin play and movement between cities. It’s a little too tight.

Maybe a little, but there have also been suggestions that the regular season could be shortened by a few games. Do that and you can fit this sort of tournament in, while also getting (slightly) better weather by starting in late September rather than early October.

There are other issues:

A potential perk is for the top seed to host most (if not all) of their round-robin games. The top seed playing the sixth seed first would mean the top seed has its best pitchers against the club with the worst regular season record, conceivably increasing its odds for a good start. Then tiebreakers present another conundrum.

In 2020, MLB did not play tiebreaker games to determine postseason teams, the first time in MLB history that was done. The Giants missed out on a postseason spot that way. Most likely, if a round-robin tournament is played, tiebreakers would have to be along those lines, using regular-season games, rather than tiebreaker games. All the other North American sports use that rule. Again, if this is known beforehand and exactly what the tiebreakers are is spelled out, teams can play regular-season games knowing what they’d have to do to avoid them.

Why is Max Scherzer’s opinion important?

Scherzer, the Washington Nationals’ ace, is on the executive subcommittee of the players’ union and a member of MLB’s rules committee. He’s had a clear view of rules discussions throughout his career, including the recent tug between expanding the playoffs or not.

Beyond that, Scherzer seems an intelligent and thoughtful kind of guy. A round-robin tournament for two weeks of baseball in late September/early October would provide a lot of games with meaning to them, as we saw in the wild-card round in 2020.

Details still have to be worked out, but I think I’d enjoy something like this. How about you?

Poll

A round-robin postseason baseball tournament such as the one proposed in the article...

This poll is closed

  • 42%
    Great! Get it done!
    (118 votes)
  • 12%
    I like the idea, but I have a different format idea
    (35 votes)
  • 20%
    Keep the current 10-team postseason format
    (56 votes)
  • 21%
    I’m a purist! Fewer teams in the postseason!
    (60 votes)
  • 2%
    Something else (leave in comments)
    (8 votes)
277 votes total Vote Now