Some people like MLB’s playoff format. Some of y’all hate it. It’s here, though, so we all just have to deal, whether it’s with the postseason format itself or just the people complaining about it. That got us to thinking about what we would change if we had the power to do so, and that’s what you’re going to read now.
That’s how intros work, you know. Reading an intro is a binding contract to read onward, so get to it.
The current postseason format is pretty good! Even the one-game playoff is enjoyable. There is nothing quite like the Wild Card Round out there in the majors sports except for football, where single-game "series" are the norm, anyway. There are ways we could make it all better, though, and that’s by adding even more postseason teams.
We’re not going to have like, half the league in the postseason or anything. We’ll get close, though. You still have your six division winners, and there are still the four wild cards in total, two from each league. We’ll also add two more wild cards, though, and that’s where things start to change.
The wild card with the best record gets a bye on the one-game elimination format. So, we’ll likely be able to avoid another situation like in 2015, where the Cubs (97 wins) and Pirates (98 wins) got one opportunity to move on in the postseason, even though they had more wins than any other postseason team in either league, division winners included. Instead, we’ll have the two wild cards with the inferior records face off in Baseball Thunderdome, and the winner of that single game will go on to face the wild card team that had the bye in a three-game series.
This little break of one day could also help the wild card team with the best record reshuffle their rotation around a bit in order to set themselves up well for the three-game Wild Card Series, while the other two teams would likely have to scramble up until the last day of the season just to make it, which is its own form of postseason chaos. Take the current AL picture right now, for instance. The Blue Jays and Orioles are separated by two games and have the first and second wild cards, but if you added a third to the league, we’d also have a tie for the third wild card. The Mariners are at 83-74 and the Tigers sit at 84-73, and both are behind Baltimore with less than a week of games to play to sort it all out.
Imagine if tiebreakers needed to be played on top of the single-game elimination. So many fan bases would have their hearts ripped out in a row, and for our enjoyment.
The team with the best record in the league would face the winner of the Wild Card Series in the Division Series, as per usual. They would just get a break of a few days beforehand, giving them time to rest and set their rotation and roster. Then it’s on to the League Championship Series and World Series like normal, just with that three-game series shoved in after the Wild Card Game and a couple more teams involved.
This would also be a good way for MLB to lengthen the postseason schedule and revenues as compensation for cutting down on the size of the regular season schedule. MLB has had talks about reducing the season from 162 games to some unknown number — if they want to go down to 154 games, or 144 games, or start the season later during less chilly and/or wet times. Adding a couple more postseason teams and an entirely new round of postseason play would help make up for at least some of the drop in revenues such a schedule change would bring.
Plus, it’d be chaotic, and that’s what we all really want, right?
My ideal MLB postseason format involves baseball taking the extra step of adding two teams, giving us 32. I’m not sure where these teams would play — San Antonio, Portland, Charlotte, New Orleans, etc. — but that’s not necessarily important to this exercise.
What I’m after is eight divisions, four in each league, with four teams each. Your postseason teams are the eight division winners, and that’s it.
I like that each postseason spot involves four teams fighting while playing the same schedule — six games each against the 12 teams in the other three divisions in your league; six games against the four teams in one interleague division, rotating so that you play an interleague team home and away every four years; and 18 each against the other three teams in your own division, to shorten the schedule to 150 games.
The main drawback is that if the two best teams in baseball happen to be in the same division, only one makes the postseason. This happened in 1993 with the 104-win Braves winning the NL West while the 103-win Giants watched October from home. San Francisco was eliminated on the final day of the regular season when Mike Piazza hit two home runs in a blowout at Dodger Stadium. If you think this exercise was just an excuse to bring this up, well ....
The Wild Card Game was introduced the next year.
I like my system, with a team from each division all making the postseason. The House of Representatives format, if you will. But I also realize that the genie has been out of the bottle for some time. There are currently 10 postseason teams, and if anything that number will go up if people like Marc have their way, not down.
So, I’ll modify my format to include four wild card teams in each. That’s 16 out of 32 teams making the postseason. It seems like a lot, but what can I say, the Wild Card Games are kind of exciting, and this ensures that the top teams all make the postseason.
In each league, four wild card teams are seeded, with No. 1 playing No. 4 and No. 2 playing No. 3 in a best-of-three series, with the first two games at the site of the team with home-field advantage. The winners move on the face the bottom two division winners in a best-of-seven first round.
The top two division winners in each league get a bye to the second round, a true reward for finishing at or near the top of your league.
The postseason reseeded after both the Wild Card Games and first round. Every round is best-of-seven, 2-3-2 format to cut travel time.
Trimming the regular season schedule to 150 games allows the extra time needed for the extra series and games.
That’s my postseason format and I’m sticking to it.
If we're really looking to blow up the postseason, why not do a version of the double elimination from the World Baseball Classic? It would look something like this:
There's one bracket for the AL and one for the NL. Teams 1 and 3 in each bracket are the two teams with the best records, and they play the two teams with the worst records. (One team would be the wild card team, determined by a three-game series, because a one-game play-in just isn't fair. Once they win that wild card series, though, they're seeded based on their record.)
In the WBC, each little bracket is one game. We wouldn't do that in our new postseason, because that's not fair. So each one represents a series. The first two rounds would be three-game series, and the final round would be a five-game series. The winner of that would be the league champion, and they'd go on to play in the World Series with the other league champion.
This format gives losers a chance to be winners, because no one is eliminated right away. If a team has a bad three games to start the postseason, they don't have to spend the next six months thinking about it. They get another chance to play, and if they keep winning, they can make their way back. But at the same time, it gives preference to teams with the better record. There's a possibility in this scenario that the best team in the league could face an unlikely Cinderella team in the final five-game series, which seems like a great way to promote utter chaos in baseball fandom.
This format feels looser and more fun than what we've been dealing with, so of course MLB wouldn't be interested. But a girl can dream, can't she?
What you have just read is a pile of nonsense. Millennial thinkpieces, all of them. When everything gets too pleasant, there’s always a bunch of dippy kids who wants to mess everything up. This is why I watch Children of Men in reverse and believe it to be one of the finest comedies of our time.
Let me tell you the story of the 1960s Giants. They had Willie Mays. They had Willie McCovey. They had Juan Marichal, Gaylord Perry, and Orlando Cepeda. That’s five Hall of Famers, and that’s before you get to the excellent complementary players like Jim Ray Hart, Felipe Alou, and Jim Davenport. They won more than 90 games in six seasons that decade.
They made the postseason once.
That’s because the postseason included just two teams, the winner of the National League vs. the winner of the American League. Which is super elegant and easy and boring as all heck. There’s no Red Sox comeback in 2004 under this system. There’s no Bartman moment, no Barry Bonds vs. Sid Bream, no Chris Chambliss pushing deadbeats and losers out of the way, no crushing comeback against the Astros, and there’s no other crushing comeback against the Astros.
And then, when it was too late to help the Giants, the leagues added divisions and an additional round of the postseason. The Giants took advantage of this once, faded away, and then got sucked into an AstroTurf hell where Johnnie LeMaster replaced Willie Mays. Not in the lineup, technically, but in spirit. This lasted on and off for almost 20 years.
The Giants of the ‘60s proved that divisions and four postseason teams were only fair.
Then came the 1993 Giants, still the one of the best teams in franchise history. They were supposed to play the year at Tropicana Field, but they opened the season with the best player in baseball instead. Barry Bonds won the MVP, and they had one of the greatest defensive teams ever assembled, with four Gold Gloves and another two players who deserved mentions. They won 103 games that year — roughly equivalent to this year’s Cubs.
They didn’t make the postseason.
That’s because the Braves decided to also have one of the best seasons of the entire decade, winning 104 games. Only three teams won more than 103 games in the entire 1990s, and one of them happened to play in the same division as the Giants the same year. Oh, I guess Eric already brought the 1993 Giants up, that's weird.
They added the Wild Card the next season, of course.
The Giants of 1993 proved that divisions, six division winners, and two wild card teams were only fair.
In 2003, the Giants went wire-to-wire for the first time in franchise history, leading the division after a win on Opening Day and never seeing second place, not even for a day. They still had Bonds, except now it looked like he had been working out! They were an excellent team with a deep lineup, and they should have had the Cy Young/MVP combo.
And they lost to the wild card team, the Marlins, who have two World Series rings without ever winning their division, both times plowing through the division-winning Giants to get there. The Marlins used the Wild Card the first time to skate into the postseason and annihilate the souls of the Indians, who hadn’t won in decades, and then they annihilated the souls of the Cubs, who hadn’t won in a century, the second time. They twice annihilated the souls of the Giants, who hadn’t won since the ‘50s, when they were in New York.
The Giants of 1997 and 2003 proved that divisions, six division winners, and making four wild card teams have a steel cage match to get into the real postseason was only fair. Maybe they would have filtered out one of those championship Marlins teams.
Is the moral of the story that the poor little Giants had their feelings hurt, so the postseason format is just a widdle bowl of porridge that’s just right now? Nah. It’s that the Giants got to shove so much karma in their karma hole that they got to vomit it all over this decade, and they’ve made baseball less enjoyable for you. The reason they got to do that was all the silly ways baseball kept the postseason an exclusive club.
When the Giants needed four postseason teams, there were two. When they needed six postseason teams, there were four. And when they needed four postseason teams, there were eight. And all of these slights took the physical manifestation of Madison Bumgarner, who emerged naked from a silver river, yelling at things for no good reason. Does he also annoy you? Well, don’t look at me. It’s the fault of the crappy postseason formats of the past.
Another postseason spot? Too much. It would make the regular season worthless, a 162-game tournament for seeding. Dropping the second Wild Card? It gives those teams too much of a reward to just dump them in with the real division winners.
No, this is the best system. It’s the best, and it’s the fairest of them all. But it’s a great way to keep a future team from vomiting karma all over the place. You didn’t ask for this. You didn’t deserve it. It happened, though. And you can prevent it from happening again.