Major League Baseball’s playoff structure changed in 2022 when two teams were added. Instead of having two single Wild Card winner-take-all games, now we have four Wild Card series, best-of-three.
That means that two teams in each league, the division winners with the best records, get byes past that first round. To some, that might seem to be an advantage — rest banged-up players, get your playoff pitching rotation in line, etc. But some feel that five days off for those teams is too much when baseball is an everyday sport.
In 2022, two of the bye teams, the 111-win Dodgers and 101-win Braves, lost their series. But the others, the 106-win Astros and 99-win Yankees, won theirs.
So what’s the problem here?
We heard some of the same complaints after the 104-win 2023 Braves lost Game 1 of their series against the Phillies. Perhaps those might be silenced after Atlanta came back from a 4-0 deficit and won Game 2, and ended it in dramatic fashion [VIDEO].
The Dodgers dropped Game 2 at home to the Diamondbacks and face elimination. In the American League, the 87-win Twins and 90-win Astros are tied 1-1, and the 101-win Orioles also stand on the brink of elimination.
The bottom line here, to me, is this: The “better” team can’t really be determined in a best-of-three, best-of-five or even best-of-seven postseason series. The best teams are determined by the 162-game regular season. Even if all the preliminary rounds were eliminated and we just had a World Series between the best A.L. regular-season team and best N.L. regular-season team, there’s no guarantee that the “better” team would win. Over the last 15 years when that was the case, 1954-68, the team with the better regular-season record won six times (with one year where the teams had the same regular-season record). Of the 10 times the Cubs were in the World Series pre-expansion, they had the better regular-season record seven times — yet won only twice.
Could the current system be served better if the teams were re-seeded after the wild card round, instead of having a bracket where No. 1 plays the No. 4-No. 5 winner and the No. 2 team plays the No. 3-No. 6 winner? Maybe, but there’s no guarantee we’d have different results now if the Diamondbacks were playing the Braves and Phillies playing the Dodgers, or if the A.L. matchups were flipped with the Rangers playing the Astros and Twins playing the Orioles.
What I think you have to remember is that the way the postseason is set up now is as an October tournament. It’s not necessarily designed to crown the “best” team of the entire season; it’s simply to determine who can win three (or four) postseason series — and provide some entertaining baseball in the interim, which we certainly got Monday evening in the Braves/Phillies game.
Further, when expansion comes we’re likely going to have 16 teams (of 32) in the postseason. A valid argument can be made that’s too many, but I’m pretty sure MLB is going to go that way, and we will have eight Wild Card series, as there were in the abbreviated 2020 pandemic season. Will you like that? Maybe not, but it will certainly bring more money into MLB’s coffers and very well could provide some exciting baseball. It won’t likely make the “best” team champion — but that’s not the point.
More baseball is always good, right? Why not just relax and enjoy the October tournament? I certainly am, even though the “best” team might not win it.
The MLB playoff structure...
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... should stay the way it is now
... should stay the way it is now, except the teams should be re-seeded after the Wild Card round
... should have fewer teams
... should have more teams
Something else (leave in comments)