COVID-19 has changed everything. Learning is solely online, so is most of our jobs, and sports largely cease to exist. Yet, Major League Baseball’s owners are set to vote today on a return to play initiative. If this initiative is passed by the owners, it will then be sent to the MLBPA for approval. Once passed by the MLBPA, the initiative can take place. This initiative, while not fully disclosed, is said to have some major changes to the 2020 MLB season. One of those likely changes, a 14 team MLB playoff, needs to be permanent.
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What Will Change?
The new playoff format of 14 teams is adding four teams to the original ten-team format. The new rules allowing for the addition of these four teams is similar to that of the NFL. The team with the best record in the National and American League will both get a bye in the first round. The other division winners and top wild cards for both the A.L. and N.L. will host a best of three series against the other wild card entrants. Finally, the division winner with the second-best record in each league picks their opponent, then the other division winners pick theirs, and the last remaining play each other.
This format is identical to what the NFL playoff format looks like, with the exception of picking opponents. Picking opponents is the only aspect of this format that doesn’t seem to fit. It’s a bit ludicrous to allow teams to pick their own opponents when they do not get that choice at any other time of year. MLB should take the NFL format and adopt exactly what they’ve done.
How Is This New MLB Format Better?
This new format allows four additional teams to make the playoffs each year. This gives more incentives for teams to attempt a push towards postseason play and lowers the recent incentive to tank. Unfortunately, “tanking” for higher draft picks has become a norm in the current MLB format. Teams like the Baltimore Orioles, Detroit Tigers, and Miami Marlins continue to flounder in mediocrity with no end in sight. This new format gives an extra avenue to success and could influence teams to make improvements enough to at least compete for one of those spots. What used to mandate 90+ wins to make the postseason would now drop to 82-85 wins.
In 2019, there were six teams that won 80+ games that did NOT make the postseason, including the 93-win Cleveland Indians. Under 2020 rules, the Indians and Red Sox would have made the playoffs in the A.L., with the Mets and Diamondbacks in the N.L. Why wouldn’t you want to see players like Mookie Betts, Jacob deGrom, Pete Alonso, Chris Sale, and J.D. Martinez on the brightest stage? Furthermore, it gives underdog teams like the 78-win Rangers, 77-win Giants, and 75-win Reds hope that they may not be too far removed from postseason play.
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This new playoff format isn’t perfect. However, it would lower the incentive for teams to tank to the bottom of the standings and raise the incentive for teams to push towards contention. Expanding the playoff format to 14 teams allows for a glimmer of hope to seep into baseball fanbases that haven’t seen it in a long time. Make the new playoff format permanent and allow that hope to flourish.
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