- Everyone is trying to “fix” Major League Baseball.
- There are seemingly endless suggestions for what to do.
- The real solution? Expand the postseason.
These days, everyone’s got a hot take on how to “fix” Major League Baseball.
There’s the proposed “catch-up rule,” forcing relief pitchers to face at least three hitters, shortening the season,lowering the costs of concessions and tickets, and cutting the game from nine to seven innings, among many, many other suggestions that mostly amount to speeding up the game at all costs.
These suggestions all seem to be aimed at a crowd that MLB wants to appeal to – people who are not currently interested in baseball games.
But what if MLB made a change aimed at people who are interested in baseball, enjoy watching the games, or are loyal followers of one of its 30 teams? You know, the people who most frequently spend their money on its product.
This change would provide as many as ten MLB cities each year with an increase in meaningful games fans will shell out money to watch. It would, in all likelihood, give the league a larger television audience. It would give fans a reason to stay engaged longer into the season. And it wouldn’t necessitate unneeded tinkering with the on-field product.
It’s time for baseball to expand its postseason.
There are religious followers of the game who cringe at the thought. They feel it cheapens the regular season, rewarding teams who haven’t played well enough to deserve the opportunity for a World Series. But as we can see from past baseball postseason expansions – this isn’t true. People aren’t arguing that one of the Wild Card teams to win a World Series – such as the San Francisco Giants in 2014 or Florida Marlins in 2003 – were undeserving.
As it stands right now, baseball has each of its “Wild Card” games taking place during the first week of October. If the league expanded its playoffs from five to eight teams in each league, this round would be replaced with a first round, three-game series featuring each of the eight participants. It would work the same way this playoff format does in hockey and basketball – the best team plays the lowest-ranked team and so on.
And this change wouldn’t cause any significant lengthening of the already long baseball season. You’re looking at adding an extra three to four days onto the baseball calendar.
How it would work
This entry series would just be a best-of-three. The lower-ranked team would host the first game at home while the higher-ranked team would get to have the second game and the potential winner-take-all third game at home. Following that first round, the baseball playoffs would continue under the current format of a five-game series followed by two seven-game series.
For those who think this would cheapen the product, consider this: The current playoff model is much more unfair and routinely rewards teams that underperformed others.
In 2015, the Pittsburgh Pirates had the second-best record in all of baseball. The only team with a better record, however, happened to be their National League Central Division rivals, the St. Louis Cardinals. Meanwhile, the team with the third-best record in baseball was the Chicago Cubs, the third-place team in the NL Central. That meant that the second- and third-best teams in the sport had to play a one-game, winner take all playoff just to get into the main postseason bracket. Meanwhile, the New York Mets and Los Angeles Dodgers – who were at least five and six games worse than the Cubs and Pirates, respectively – got a free ride into the Division Series.
Something similar is happening this year. In the American League, the New York Yankees and Oakland A’s are each on pace to win nearly 100 games. But because the Boston Red Sox and Houston Astros have played historically good baseball, the Yankees and A’s will have to clash in a one-game playoff. The loser will see their season of great baseball rewarded with just one game. For the A’s, that likely means no playoff home games in exchange for a 95+ win season should they lose to the Bronx Bombers.
Meanwhile, a Cleveland Indians team will be rewarded with a free ride onto the second round with a record that will, in all likelihood, be much inferior to the Yankees and A’s. And even at that, their winning percentage is a product of playing in baseball’s worst division with three atrocious teams and another that is merely bad. The Indians are 40-43 when playing teams outside of their historically lousy division. Inside of it, the team is 45-23.
How it would change the course of MLB’s bizarre 2018 season
Because the AL has been so unbalanced all year – five teams have been locked into playoff positions for much of the summer – the regular season has essentially proven meaningless for months. In both Tampa and Seattle, teams will likely finish with more than 90 wins – often considered the bar to make the playoffs – only to miss the postseason entirely. Owners of baseball’s third-best record since July, the Rays will get no reward for impressively cruising through the season’s second half.
But if MLB expanded the playoffs, Tampa and Seattle would be playing critical games to determine what slot they fell into for the postseason’s first round. The final spot in the AL this year would go to the Los Angeles Angels – who happen to have the league’s brightest star in outfielder Mike Trout. Trout, however, has been to the postseason just once in his eight professional seasons.
And baseball wonders why he isn’t as marketable as the big stars in other sports.
Meanwhile, the National League, a playoff expansion would mean that teams in Philadelphia, Arizona, Pittsburgh, and Washington would be fighting tooth-and-nail right now to clinch one of the postseason’s final two slots. That’s four cities that would gain meaningful September baseball – a likely increase in attendance and viewership – as opposed to the seemingly unimportant games in which each team has been competing.
Then, think of the dramatic first round of games the league could provide fans under a 16-team system. It would be creating a March Madness-esque playoff atmosphere during the first week in October, where playoff games all across the country took place from early in the afternoon all the way through the night. It would create a scenario where underdog teams could emerge victorious over heavy favourites – something baseball is seemingly void of in its postseason as it stands today.
It would create a fairer postseason, provide more fans with meaningful, late-season baseball, inject an underdog element currently missing from baseball’s playoffs, and wouldn’t require any controversial tinkering with the on-field product.
Baseball faced some pushback when it expanded the postseason in 1969 and again after the 1994 strike. Would it choose to return to those smaller postseason fields? No. And the sport would have no interest in going back to the present-day scenario if it goes through with this adjustment.
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