Legends On Deck

Did MLB Improve Their Postseason in 2022?

This article first appeared in last week’s Internet Baseball Writers Association (IBWAA) newsletter “Here’s the Pitch.” 

The 2022 MLB Postseason has been full of surprises. In the newly created Wild Card round, three of the four lower seeded teams (Padres, Phillies and Mariners) knocked off the seemingly advantaged home teams (Mets, Cardinals and Blue Jays). Only the AL Central Champion Cleveland Guardians survived. The Division Series continued to send shock waves, particularly in the National League, both the top seeded Dodgers and defending World Series Champion Braves would both lose in four to the Padres and Phillies, respectively.

The underdog story is often one of the great stories in sports. Everyone loves watching the upset, the seemingly lesser team overcoming the odds to knock off the big, bad “fill-in-the-blank” team. However, the biggest question baseball fans should be wrestling with is, what impact should the 162 game regular season have on the postseason?

The New Postseason vs The Previous Format

First, I would like to acknowledge that I believe the new, postseason format with six teams and a Wild Card round is better than the previous one-and-done Wild Card play-in game. The one game Wild Card game, while often exciting, was completely foreign to the game of baseball. Under no circumstances, other than the one game elimination postseason game, is baseball determined by a one game contest. Baseball is a six day a week sport. The entire regular season consists primarily of three game series between teams.

Furthermore, under the current format, the home team has a (seemingly) tremendous advantage. All three games in the Wild Card series are played at the home of the higher seeded team. This means that despite the obvious home field advantage; the Mets, Cardinals and Blue Jays could not deliver for their fans. In this way, the three game series in the opening round of the postseason – all being held at the higher seed team ballpark – seems more than fair.

Watering Down The Regular Season

The LA Dodgers went through the trouble of winning 111 regular season games and captured the NL West title. They ended the regular season with a 22 game lead on the San Diego Padres. Those same Padres eliminated the Dodgers in just four games in the NLDS.

The Atlanta Braves spent their entire season chasing the New York Mets to capture the NL East crown. The Braves and Mets would finish their seasons with 101 wins. And in short order, the Padres and Phillies would eliminate both teams.

This is not to discredit the hot streak the Padres and Phillies are on, but it makes you wonder what the benefit of having the best regular season actually is. The Padres won 89 regular season games and the Phillies, 87. The Padres and Phillies have clearly outplayed their postseason opponents, but it makes you wonder what the Postseason would look like if they weren’t there at all. Yes, the Padres and Phillies certainly earned their way to their current status, but it begs the question, should they have been there to begin?

Is A Postseason Bye Actually An Advantage?

The current trend is to expand the postseason and it is easy to see why. Adding one more team to the postseason was not that big of a deal. It went from 33% of MLB teams making the postseason to 40%. This number is still more selective than leagues like the NBA or NHL that include eight teams in each conference in their playoffs. This has allowed, at various times, teams with losing records to be admitted to the playoffs. This has also been somewhat true in the NFL.

In MLB, the Baltimore Orioles (83-79) and the Milwaukee Brewers (86-76) finished their seasons with winning records and still missed the postseason. Both the Chicago White Sox and San Francisco Giants finished at 81-81. More than any other sport, the baseball regular season is a long, slow grind. The long stretch of 162 games that span from April to September ought to mean something come October.

In the current format, it means either home field advantage or a first round bye. A bye week might be beneficial in a sport like football, but is a week off actually an advantage in baseball? The Dodgers and Braves may make a solid case against it. Baseball is a sport where routine and repetition is a benefit. This might explain some of the early success enjoyed by teams like the Padres and Phillies.

What’s The Best Case Postseason Format For MLB?

It’s difficult to say with any certainty that one postseason format would be preferable to another for MLB. However, for the sake of discussion, I might offer the best possible solution for MLB moving forward. Rather than a five team or six team postseason, why not cut it back to four teams? In other words, a return to the pre-Wild Card era. Yes, I admittedly find the wild card games entertaining. And in some way, I hold the view “the more baseball the better.” And, truth be told, I’ll likely prefer the winner of the Padres vs Phillies in the World Series to whoever wins the American League.

All this being said, I think it might be best if September baseball has more meaning and fewer teams make the postseason. This would include the three division winners and just one Wild Card. If the league were to expand to 32 teams at some point, the postseason might just include four division winners. If this format were in place in 2022, the postseason would have looked like this:

  • ALDS: Astros (AL West Champ) vs Blue Jays (Wild Card)
  • ALDS: Yankees (AL East Champ) vs Guardians (AL Central Champ)
  • NLDS: Dodgers (NL West Champ) vs Mets (Wild Card)
  • NLDS: Braves (AL East Champ) vs Cardinals (NL Central Champ)

Make the Regular Season Matter (Again)

Under this structure, the postseason could have begun October 7 and the World Series would be over by the third week of October; before Halloween. Going into the final weekend of the regular season, the only division race with any meaning was the NL East, between the New York Mets and Atlanta Braves. That series had a postseason-like atmosphere to it, but it turned out to have very little meaning in the long run.

As MLB looks for more ways to get fans engaged in the game, the league may want to consider the meaningfulness of their regular season. This might mean a shorter, more selective postseason.

%d bloggers like this: