On Reddit, the question was posed:
If MLB expanded by adding 2 teams and re-aligned to 4 divisions each in the AL and NL, how do you think the playoffs should be organized?
Most of the responses went along the lines of bemoaning having too many teams in the playoffs, the mediocre nature of teams that won in the World Series (particularly in the early even years of the decade), hating the single-game playoffs, and such things in that vein.
Well, I disagree. I feel that teams are decided by their greatness on the field, and by whomever wins, not who looks better on paper. Paper is for being buried in books, after all. And through that, I have a particularly wild idea for this situation.
If baseball expands to 32 teams, let’s put 24 of them in the playoffs.
Yes, really. Wait, hear me out.
Obviously, the eight division winners (four in each league) would get in and get a benefit for being the division winners. And it would still be a bye.
But then, there would be eight wild card winners, per league. Yes, eight. Yep, that would absolutely put teams with losing records in the playoffs.
But probably not for long…
Here’s how the proposal would work.
Qualification Round – All 1-game playoffs, in which the wild card teams (seeded by record, within each league) face off. 16 teams. 8 games. A truly wild round of games with everything on the line. True wildness, where anything can happen.
Wild Card Round – In Best-of-3 series, the winners of the Wild Card round face the Division Winners, reseeded based upon record. And an extra wrinkle: Before the playoffs begin (and before the Division Winner know who they will face), they have to choose if they would play the important first game at home, or rather host Games 2 and a potential 3.
Divisional Round – Best-of-5 series. Within each league, again the teams are reseeded.
League Championship Round – Best-of-7 series, treated as before.
World Series – Best-of-7, as always.
Would this mean there’s a chance of an extreme underdog making it into the World Series? A team with a losing record, perhaps? Yes, absolutely. But they’d have to do it against big odds. And that’s how it should be.
Division Winners will still get their advantage of a bye past that 1-game elimination round, not having to use their presumptive ace in that game, and also now a choice in how to play the new Wild Card round. The 3-game series helps mitigate the length added to the playoffs.
Tiebreakers for seeding would be done with the usual: Head-to-head results, run differential, and so forth, but would end in a coin flip rather than an extra game. The only tiebreaker games would be for a Division winner or for the final spot. This plan would likely work best with a season shortened to 154 games, again, to mitigate the length added to the end of the season.
The biggest problem I see: Baseball would do best to have the 8 Qualification games on a weekend. Four games on Saturday, four on Sunday, for an all-day must-watch baseball weekend for fans. Creating this would be a huge day for baseball fans to gather and enjoy baseball. This would also be huge for an undeniable impact: gamblers. A Wild Qualifier weekend like that would be as fun for gamblers in places like Las Vegas to spend a weekend watching baseball and betting.
However, baseball currently ends its season on a Sunday, with all games playing at the same time for teams to hopefully play into playoff spots and qualify on the field, rather than watching games on television. Waiting five days for the playoffs to begin may be too long for MLB.
This also has one other ancillary effect, hopefully: reducing the tanking that plagues baseball right now. Most of baseball would have a chance to get to the big dance. Less teams making the playoffs means that you’re either elite or you don’t matter, and it makes even half-built teams dump resources to tank. With this plan, the right team can visualize putting together a cinderella-style run.
Maybe this plan is a little too wild. Maybe baseball would never consider making their playoffs as big a spectacle as March Madness, or as long as NBA’s so-called second season. But I for one would be open to putting the game on the field, and letting players step up to win.