MLB's radical playoff proposal isn't great. Here's a much better approach.

Sporting News

The report in the New York Post that MLB is considering radical changes to the playoff setup has rankled baseball fans across the internet since it posted last night. Hate to break it to you, folks, but the baseball postseason hasn’t been sacred for a long time.

Way back in 1904, the New York Giants of the National League refused to play the AL champion Boston Americans because, well, the mighty Giants didn’t want to give the AL team — considered the weaker junior circuit — the satisfaction of competing on the big stage.

From 1905 to 1968, though, the format remained constant. The AL and NL teams battled all summer for league supremacy, then the two league champs squared off in the World Series. That felt sacred, superior in its simplicity: The best two teams played for the title.

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In 1969, the playoff field expanded to four clubs. The 1981 strike debacle let eight teams into the playoffs, but somehow left out the two NL teams with the best records for the entire season, the Cardinals and Reds. Embarrassing, not sacred. In 1995, eight playoff teams became the new normal. In 2012, the number jumped to 10.

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And now, according to a report in the New York Post, MLB is hoping to add four more teams to the mix, bringing the number of playoff teams to 14.

Sheesh. If we retroactively apply this format to recent years, it means that four teams with losing records would have made the postseason in the past six seasons. But MLB, under commissioner Rob Manfred’s direction, clearly — and I cannot stress this enough — does not care about that. Money over tradition.

Let’s assume that playoff expansion is going to happen. The proposal wouldn’t have been floated if playoff expansion wasn’t on the owners’ agenda (probably MLB expansion at some point, too, though that’s an entirely different topic). The proposal put forth in the Post is not great, from a baseball perspective, and the idea that more teams would be motivated to spend more money and trade for more players is faulty, at best.

But this idea of creating a reality show feel, where the teams with the better records pick which team they’d get to face to open the postseason? That’s so ludicrous it’s hard to believe anyone who has ever been around baseball people could come up with that idea. There are zero — repeat, zero — baseball lifers who are going to willingly take part in that gimmick, if not forced to at risk of a hefty fine.

Do you think, for example, Brian Cashman wants to stand on a stage and say, “The Yankees choose to play the Red Sox” this round? Nah. Aaron Boone? Sorry, not in a million years. Who wants to work all season to gain home-field advantage just to give your opponent an extra dose of motivation on national TV? That “honor” is going to be passed down to the damn bat boy or a ticket-sales intern: “Do this or you’re fired, kid.”

Does MLB want teams to hand out roses as invitations? To extinguish torches as the end of a series? Entertainment doesn’t have to be cheesy.

Here's a better MLB playoff proposal

We have a better idea for a revitalized playoff format, developed with several guiding thoughts in mind: 1. The playoffs are going to expand, so let’s make the best of it. 2. The regular season HAS to mean something. 3. MLB and its TV partners love drama. 4. Let more teams in, sure, but give them a significantly tougher path to a World Series title. Bits and pieces have been taken from other conversations and sources over the years; if credit isn’t properly given, that’s not intentional.

So here’s our idea: Instead of expanding from two wild cards per league to four, let’s just add one more in each league. I’m sorry, but if you don’t win more than half of your games over a 162-game schedule, you should not get to participate in the postseason. The format cannot allow for that to happen regularly (and, yes, four times in six years would be regularly). If MLB does expand down the road, maybe then add a fourth wild-card team. Until then, no.

There would be six playoff teams in each league: three division winners and three wild cards. The top two division winners — by record — would get a bye for the first round. Giving the best two teams a bye, instead of just one, places additional importance on the regular season. It rewards the best teams, and creates incentive to keep winning.

The opening round would be double-headers. Well, potential double-headers. Yep. Drama.

The “worst” division winner would host the No. 3 wild-card team, and the No. 1 wild-card winner would host the No. 2 wild-card team. If the home team wins the opener, that’s it. Series over. But if the road team wins the opener, a second game would be played that evening (teams could replace a pitcher or two on the roster), with the winner advancing.

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As the wild-card format stands now — one game only — the most important thing is too often which team has one elite starting pitcher performance, not which team earned home-field advantage over 162 games. Think Jake Arrieta shutting down the 98-win Pirates in Pittsburgh in 2015 or Kyle Freeland shutting out the Cubs in Chicago into the seventh inning in 2018. With the double-header setup, a team would need more than one pitcher to advance.

For TV purposes, this would need to be a weekend event: The two AL double-headers would be played on a Saturday, with the NL double-headers played on Sunday. October needs as many day playoff games as possible, y’know?

In MLB’s proposal, the best two teams would be off for too long, as the other six teams played best-of-three series (and then a travel day). You reward the best teams with a breather, not an extended break. In this scenario, it’s exactly like the current format. One day while the wild-card games happen, one travel day and then back at it.

For the second round — the LDS — we go from best-of-five, as it currently stands, to a best-of-seven series. The longer series favors the better team, right? For this round, the team with the No. 1 overall seed (the league’s best record) plays the worst remaining seed.

And this home/road format would favor the best teams: 2-2-3, with no travel day between Games 2 and 3 (to help make the best-of-seven format work). Give the team that proved superior over the course of the 162-game schedule the significant advantage, with as many as five home games — Games 1, 2, 5, 6, 7. I first heard this idea from Bob Costas years ago.

The LCS rounds and World Series rounds would remain the same — best of seven, with a 2-3-2 format. If the wild-card team has made it that far against the odds, enough is enough.

There is no perfect playoff format. Too much changes from year to year, from division to division, from league to league, to have a flawless plan.

But this one, we think, is better than what MLB is reportedly considering, and not just because we aren’t taking our cues from reality TV.

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