October madness or magic? The great playoff shake up

Rob Manfred is standing in his office, scouring the room for a glimmer, a spark of inspiration. His advisors shuffle awkwardly in their seats, trying not to make eye contact. Exasperated, the commissioner pleads

“Someone must have an idea. I have to deliver the sign-stealing punishment to the Red Sox before spring training starts. And the media are still consumed by the Astros banging-scheme. We need a diversion. Anything?”

The baseball world was rocked on Monday by Joel Sherman’s revelation that Major League Baseball is considering a radical, and I mean radical, change to the postseason format.

Currently, the winners of all three divisions are joined by two Wild Card teams, making five teams in each league. The proposal is to increase this to seven. It’s wilder than it sounds.

Seven out of 15 means nearly half of all MLB teams will play in October. It’s a bit like rewarding everyone for taking part, but let’s walk through it.

The team with the best record in each league gets a bye and proceeds straight to the Division Series.
Last season, the Houston Astros in the AL and the Los Angeles Dodgers in the NL, were the teams with the best records. The Dodgers’ 106 wins in the regular season saw them avoid the other division winners, but pitted them against the winners of the Wild Card playoff. The Nationals had won 13 fewer regular season games, but we all know what happened next.

Under the new proposals, the Astros and Dodgers could kick back and relax, and recharge their batteries for the Division Series.

Four Wild Card teams in each league instead of two.
Last season, Cleveland and Boston in the AL, and Arizona and Chicago in the NL, started their vacation at the end of September. Under the new system, all four teams would still be playing in October.

No more one-off playoff games.
Instead of a single, winner-take-all Wild Card playoff game, the new postseason structure would reward all of the Wild Card teams with a best-of-three series. It means no more Stephen Strasburg relieving Max Scherzer.

Best of three should produce a better result while simultaneously giving an advantage to the best-record team resting with their feet up at home.

The three Wild Card teams with the worst records in each league are on the road in the first round.
The Wild Card team with the best record and the two division winners not enjoying a bye are rewarded with the three-game first-round series in front of their own crowd.

Revisiting last season’s standings would give home-field advantage to the Yankees, Twins and A’s in the AL, and the Braves, Cardinals and Nationals in the NL.

And this is where it gets interesting …

The division winner with the second-best record (i.e. the best record after the bye-team), get to CHOOSE their opponents for the first round.
That’s right. In 2019, the Yankees would have had their choice of arch-rivals Boston Red Sox, the Cleveland Indians with their twin-pronged pitching attack of Mike Clevinger and Shane Bieber, or the Tampa Bay Rays, headlined by Charlie Morton, Tyler Glasnow and Blake Snell.

In the NL, the Braves had the best record behind the Dodgers, so they would have got their choice of the Mets, Brewers or Diamondbacks.

Would Arizona have traded Greinke at the deadline? Would the Braves choose the Brewers who had won 15 of their last 20 games? Or would they opt for a clash against their NL East division rivals from New York?

For the purpose of this exercise, let’s say the Yankees picked the Indians, and the Braves selected the D-Backs.

The remaining division winner CHOOSES from the two remaining Wild Card teams.
So that’s the Twins and Cardinals. It’s fascinating just thinking whether Minnesota would pick the Indians, with whom they had a losing record, or roll the dice against the Rays and their AL-best pitching staff.

The Cardinals would surely want to avoid their red-hot, division rivals from Milwaukee, but would they really want to face the Mets with Noah Syndergaard, Marcus Stroman and Jacob deGrom?

This leaves the Wild Card team with the best regular season record facing the remaining Wild Card team.

Embed from Getty Images

You can imagine that speculation about the decision choices would be big news for weeks proceeding the end of the regular season. Not everything is a clear-cut as the Yankees choosing the Twins.

But this is where it gets really interesting with a game-show twist.

The selection process would be played out live on TV
Talk about must-watch television! On the evening of the final regular season game, just hours after the final pitch has been thrown, representatives from the teams would make their selections on an exclusive live TV show. As bizarre as it sounds, I would definitely be staying up to watch a game show.

Yes it is gimmicky, and yes it has been fed to the media to get us to stop talking about the Astros or the imminent decision on the Red Sox sign-stealing scandal, but the proposal has many interesting points.

Firstly, more teams in the playoffs mean more teams in contention for longer and therefore, more fans involved. Would Indians fans rather have the shot of overturning New York in a three-game series at Yankee stadium or no shot at all?

Secondly, the three-game format could mean that come the trade deadline, more teams are willing to “go for it”. It appeared that some teams were not keen to make a serious push for the Wild Card spots when the reward was a coin-toss one-off game.

Thirdly, no team qualifying for October baseball will be sent home after just one game. Each team will get a best-of-three series.

This dramatic new format could go into effect as early as the 2022 season.

Photo courtesy of Stefani Reynolds/ John McDonnell/The Washington Post via Getty Images

Gavin is one of the growing team of writers at Bat Flips and Nerds. Follow him on Twitter @_tramps

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