Lockdown Could Lead to a Restructured MLB Playoff System

John Hickey

We don’t know if Major League Baseball will have a regular season yet, so at some level it’s getting ahead of reality by talking about a possible MLB post-season, but here we are.

Strange times.

Anyway, the power brokers at SI put this question forward – should MLB play an official World Series in a year when a full season almost certainly won’t be played?

Here’s my take:

At this point, baseball isn’t likely to play more than 100 games or so. That’s assuming – and this is by no means a lock – that the sport gets going in June after a late-May spring training-ish warmup. A season that goes from mid-June through mid-October might get to 108 games.

In 1981, the players’ strike limited teams to between about 102-111 games, and expanded the playoffs. The expansion came because there was a first-half winner and a first-half loser which meant, among other things, that the team with the best record in either league, the Cincinnati Reds (66-42), didn’t make the playoffs at all, because the Reds finished second in both halves.

No one thinks twice now about calling the Dodgers the 1981 World Series champs just because the season imploded and lost one-third of its games. People may squawk now about how few games are (we think) going to be played in 2020, but baseball makes a lot of money from the playoffs. The playoffs will go on.

I just don’t think they’ll look the same. Playoffs in recent years have included three division winners and two wild card teams per league, the wild card teams facing each other in a one-game playoff – the A’s know the horrors of that system, being bounced in the wild card game in three of the last six seasons – to get a spot in the divisional playoffs.

At the very least, the wild card could be expanded to a best-of-three series. But MLB has talked about expanding the playoffs to seven team teams per league rather than five starting with the 2022 season if they can get the players association to agree. The plan calls for four wild card teams in addition to the three division winners. The team with the best record in each league gets a bye; everybody else must play its way through the first round into a division series.

The way the 2022 plan is being talked about now, the first-round will be a format calling for best-of-three series with the higher seed hosting each game. The second seed gets to pick its opponent from among the fifth-, sixth- or seventh-seeded teams. The third seed gets to pick from the remaining two team. The fourth seed gets whoever’s left.

After that there would be a revision to what we’re used to; the division series would be a best-of-five and the championship series and the World Series would both be best-of-seven.

Since this is going to be a crazy season – assuming there is a season – no matter what, why not try this format out? It would mean many more playoff games and more money, and with the sport currently generating no income, that’s got to appeal.

Teams like the A's and the Astros , who have done heated battle for the American League West title the last two seasons, would feel somewhat less pressure if only because teams finishing second would almost certainly find that a path into the postseason. 

Of course, that would add a week or more to the post-season, but given that the owners and players have agreed to playing into November, even if it means playing in a neutral site, that shouldn’t be a major issue.

What’s needed now is a decision on whether or not baseball is going to be played. Until we know that, we’re just stumbling around in the dark.

Follow Athletics insider John Hickey on Twitter: @JHickey3

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