The Yankees were already close to an hour into their first game of the regular season when Major League Baseball sent out an official release announcing the expansion of this year's postseason.
Rather than 10 teams making the playoffs, a grand total of 16 clubs will advance past the conclusion of this summer's shortened 60-game campaign.
Before it was official, reports surrounding the expansion were brought up in Aaron Boone's managerial presser prior to first pitch on Thursday.
"Whatever they decide, you know, I trust it's going to be the best thing for the game and the sport and for our country moving forward this year," Boone said.
Boone didn't know it at the time, but this change is poised to have a significant impact on even the most dominant teams in baseball heading into October.
This fall, the postseason will begin with eight three-game Wild Card Series. That means even as more than half of the entire league will make the playoffs, the Division Series in both leagues could conceivably take place with zero division winners. All 16 teams will need to fight through this remastered first round.
While adding a full slate of high-leverage games is exciting for fans across the country, especially those rooting for teams that are now in contention to fill the final few slots this fall, Yankees' reliever Zack Britton believes the clubs that win their divisions should be "rewarded in some form or fashion."
"I do see the benefit of increasing playoffs and adding that to our sport," he said. "I just felt like it was kind of rushed. The only thing that I would have liked to see is the division winners — and whether that's us or another team — if you win your division, you should be either given a bye or something to show that you won your division. I just don't really see that."
Britton isn't alone in feeling that top seeds are not adequately rewarded for winning their divisions in this format.
"I would just like to see I think a reward for winning the division," fellow reliever Chad Green said. "I just think there needs to be a little bit more incentive for winning your division."
The stakes will be high no matter what when the likes of Britton and Green enter a playoff game in the late innings. So, what does ace Gerrit Cole think about the change?
"For me personally, it's a little less than ideal that there's not more weight given to the division winners," he said.
Think about it this way. The Yankees could storm through its 60-game schedule and clinch a top seed in the American League. If Cole happens to have a bad game in the first contest of the postseason and New York loses, they're already on the brink of elimination in a three-game set. That could come against a team that lost significantly more games during the regular season (as the No. 1 seed will play the No. 8 seed and so forth).
That said, Cole stayed optimistic, recognizing the impact that this new format can have on MLB fans across the country and around the world.
"On behalf of the players, solid deal. On behalf of the fans, more baseball. So, two thumbs up for me," Cole said.
While the Yankees aren't completely on board with the expansion — similar to their feelings on MLB's new extra-innings rule — the goal doesn't change. The consensus at Summer Camp, leaking into their opener this week, is that this club knows what they are capable of regardless of this season's unprecedented circumstances.
Days before his powerful Opening Day performance, Giancarlo Stanton called New York's lineup "unmatched." Longest-tenured Yankee Brett Gardner — the only remaining member of the Bombers' 2009 team that won a World Series — said this organization's young core is "built" for a truncated sprint thanks to elite talent and depth.
Boone explained that his focus is on the next game and regardless of what playoff scenarios his club will face down the road, they have to get there first. His star right fielder echoed that sentiment on the final day of Yankees' Summer Camp.
"We wanted to win the division first off and put ourselves in a good position in the postseason and that’s what we did," Aaron Judge said, in reference to last season. "That’s going to be our goal again this year. Continue to win our division, especially in a shortened season we have here. Win our division and put ourselves in a good position in the postseason to finish the job."
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