MLB’s new playoff format is just fine the way it is
The ALCS and NLCS are set.
The defending World Series Champion Astros will take on the Rangers in the American League Championship Series, while the defending National League Champion Phillies will battle the Diamondbacks in the National League Championship Series.
It seems like a pretty strong final four to me, especially since there is a good chance for a World Series rematch between Houston and Philadelphia.
Too bad other teams aren’t battling it out for the right to go to the World Series, at least that’s what so many are now saying because of the perceived unfairness of baseball’s expanded postseason format that began in 2022.
Why is it unfair? Because the teams with the best records keep losing, I suppose. The five-best records from the regular season failed to make it as far as the LCS. Three of the four teams in the LCS began their postseason journey in the wildcard round. Of those three teams, none were division winners. As for the four franchises who earned a bye into the League Division Series, only the Astros were able to advance to the LCS.
The two top teams in the American League during the regular season (at least if you go by records), the Orioles and Rays, failed to even win a postseason game this year. The Rangers made sure of that when they traveled to Tropicana Field to sweep Tampa in a best-of-three wildcard series; Texas then swept the Orioles in the best-of-five ALCS.
As for the team with the best record in baseball during the regular season, the Braves, who won 104 games, Philadelphia beat them, three games to one, in the NLDS.
What can be done to prevent the really good teams from losing in the postseason? Believe it or not, that question was already being asked during the wildcard round when three lower seeds advanced into the LDS. I don’t know about you, but I think the wildcard format is pretty darn fair for the higher seeds who are guaranteed to host all three games of the best-of-three series.
As for the teams on a bye, the argument is that sitting an extra few days after the regular season creates rust, as players lose momentum while resting. Maybe, but every team gets an extra few days off during the regular season because of the All-Star break, and nobody ever seems to complain about the buildup of rust or the loss of momentum. Also, while the top division winners are gaining rust and losing momentum on their byes, they’re also setting their pitching staffs up the way they want them for the LDS. Meanwhile, the squads battling it out in the wildcard series must burn at least their top two starters (that is, if they didn’t already use their top starters just to sneak into the wildcard series) and exhaust the arms in their bullpen.
What can be done to make MLB’s expanded playoff format more fair for the teams with the best regular-season records? Nothing. They just have to play better once the postseason starts because, guess what, whenever a league expands its postseason field, it decreases the odds for the teams with the best regular-season records.
While creating a better chance for teams who otherwise would have never made it to the playoffs, you’re also decreasing the odds for the franchises who would have had an easier path in a smaller field.
To quote Rocky Balboa: It’s simple mathematics.
The only reason people are complaining about the expanded postseason is because the teams who were given a better chance have taken advantage of it.
For the second straight year, the National League will be represented by a wildcard team. In fact, if Arizona, who swept both the National League Central-winning Brewers and the National League West-winning Dodgers to get to the NLCS, gets past the Phillies, it will be the second year in a row that a sixth seed advances to the World Series out of the senior circuit.
I’ve gone on record as saying that the expanded playoff format, one that includes an actual series in the wildcard round, is the best thing that has happened to Major League Baseball that does not include the addition of a salary cap.
More teams now make the playoffs, and those teams actually have more than one game to make their case once they qualify.
If you’re a team playing in the wildcard round who can’t take advantage of being the higher seed and hosting all three games, that’s on you. If you’re a division winner who earned a bye and can’t take advantage of being able to line your pitching staff up just right during your break, that’s on you.
Don’t expect Major League Baseball to do anything about it, and if it does, it’s only going to expand its postseason format.
Billion-dollar professional sports leagues never subtract teams from their postseason field.