Baseball is a game of sample size. Played over 162 games to determine who the best hitters, pitchers, and teams are. Baseball thrives on a massive schedule of games to choose who the best teams are. When it comes to October, baseball it’s not always about the best team or the deepest roster. It’s about teams getting hot at the right time and stars shining the brightest on the biggest stage.
In 2014, the 89 win Royals hosted the Oakland A’s for one of the best wild cards in recent memory. The momentum from that game and three lights-out relievers propelled Kansas City to Game Seven of the fall classic. Two years later, the Indians went all the way on the back of two starting pitchers and a reliever. Both teams made historic post-season runs that surprised many and rekindled a love for baseball in their communities.
What’s The Goal?
The goal of Rob Manfred and the MLB should always be to increase the worth and recognition of its brand. The more eyes on baseball, the better. The playoffs are the best opportunity to bring in viewers who may not be a part of the established base. The math is relatively simple: the more playoff baseball there is, the more people will watch. But at what point is there too much playoff baseball? The NBA features 16 teams each post-season which makes up over half of the entire league. The main concern is that too many teams will dilute the quality of play. What if an 82-82 team or worst will slide in and knock out a favorite in a five-game series?
But isn’t that compelling in itself? A team that barely gets into the playoffs threatening to upset a favorite to win the pennant? Look no further than March Madness, where year after year we celebrate a “Cinderella.” Almost every league that has expanded playoffs has seen success in viewership and quality of play. Baseball is gasping for breath among young fans; what better way to increase their viewership than more “winner takes all” games.
Stars transcend their team and sport, and the best way to produce iconic stars and moments is to place them in iconic situations. Fans turn on their TV to see Lebron face KD or Mahomes vs. Josh Allen. Adding additional teams to the playoffs this year would have allowed players like Vladmir Guerro Jr., Jarred Kelenic, and Bryce Harper to play in prime time.
How Would It Be done?
The slippery slope argument comes into play here. How many teams are too many teams in the playoffs, and how do you reward the best teams in the regular season? The ideal fit would be going from five teams per league to seven teams per league. This year this would have added the Phillies, Reds, Blue Jays, and Mariners (both won over 90 games).
To continue the tradition of the wild card game, the sixth and seventh seed would play each other to begin the playoffs, just like the current system. However, the team that clinches the wild card would then enter a three-game series with the five seed to keep the playoffs in a single month. And to challenge depth and strategy, the three-game series between the winner and the five seed would begin with a day-night doubleheader. The five seed would host the doubleheader.
If a Game Three is necessary, the team will play at the wild card’s park the next night. What a great way to challenge the depth of pitching and strategy. Plus, think of how cool it would be to watch your team play a playoff doubleheader?
While this three-game series is happening, the classic five-game divisional series would be between the three and four seed. Meanwhile, the one and two seed would be getting over a week of rest to line up their rotation and get healthy for the stretch run. The two seed would play the winner of the three/four seed ALDS, and then the one seed gets the extra advantage of facing the lowest seed coming off of a doubleheader! Then the winner of the two remaining ALDS would move on to the traditional seven-game ALCS.
How Would This Impact The Regular Season?
This incentivizes regular-season winning at every level. The six and seven seeds are still fighting for a chance to get in. The teams in the three, four, and five seed range are trying to avoid the doubleheader series, and then the one and two seed can compete for their bye and play for the lower seed. This also would prevent the situation where a lower seed wins a couple of “fluke games” and undeservedly ends up in the ALCS. The likelihood of a team coming all the way from a one-game wild card, a three-game doubleheader series, and a classic five-game series ALDS to make it to the ALCS are very slim.
What Are The Drawbacks?
The most obvious one would be a lousy team sneaking into the playoffs. If somehow a team with a losing record snuck into the playoffs, it would be widely criticized by the baseball purists. However, the millions of people who tuned in to watch the 7-9 Washington Football team take Tom Brady and the Buccaneers into the fourth quarter seem to say the record doesn’t matter.
The other drawback is too many playoff games making it less compelling to watch. This is a valid argument, but the addition of the three-game series makes the format more thrilling to watch and would hopefully incentivize viewership. Ultimately, adding more stars, more significant moments, and playoff baseball cannot be considered a drawback. The best thing for baseball is more baseball.