The 2020 World Series just kicked off.
It’s the Los Angeles Dodgers, the best team in baseball who posted an insane 43-17 record during the regular season, taking on the Tampa Bay Rays, the second-best team in baseball who went 40-20 during the regular season.
No. 1 vs. No. 1. That’s exactly what Rob Manfred needed to validate the existence of an expanded playoff field. Had this featured two clunky, random teams, like the Marlins and Blue Jays, who really had no business making the playoffs in a normal season, there would surely have been some outrage over the legitimacy of this World Series.
But here we are. Baseball added an extra round to generate some buzz and, when it was all said and done, the two best teams still came out on top.
Ahead of Game 1 in Arlington, Manfred spoke about Major League Baseball’s 60-game season and what’s next for the league. One thing he mentioned was how the expanded playoff field was a success and that it’s something he would like to continue.
“I like the idea of, and I’m choosing my words carefully here, an expanded playoff format,” Manfred said. “I don’t think we would do 16 like we did this year. I think we do have to be cognizant of making sure that we preserve the importance of our regular season. But I think something beyond the 10 that we were at would be a good change.”
This is really no surprise at all. MLB has wanted to add more playoff teams to the mix for quite some time and it’s very obvious why. Money. More playoff games, more meaningful games to sell. Take a look back at the bracket. How much did Hankook pay to sponsor the wild-card round? That’s millions of dollars in the owners’ pockets because they let a few mediocre teams into the dance.
A 16-team field is definitely a bit much. I mean, it’s difficult to look at the “race” we witnessed for playoff berths in the American League and think this is good. The Jays lost every game for like a week during the stretch run and barely lost any ground to the miserable teams behind them.
There simply aren’t 16 teams who deserve to play October baseball each season. Maybe more teams would actively try to be competitive if this was the case each season, but it also devalues the meaning of the 162-game marathon of a season that everyone plays.
MLB needs to figure out the middle ground between ensuring the season matters while also adding more teams to the mix so that half of the fans in the league don’t feel perennially hopeless. How do they do that?
In my mind, seven playoffs teams in each league makes sense. Have three division winners get a bye to the Division Series and have four wild-card teams do a wild-card weekend. The No. 1 wild-card team faced No. 4 and No. 2 plays No. 3, the winners play each other, and the winner of that moves on to the Division Series.
So, for example, this year, it would have been the Twins, Rays, and Athletics getting a bye, while the White Sox played the Blue Jays and the Yankees played Cleveland in wild-card games. The Blue Jays, of course, would have beaten the Sox and then they would have beaten the Yankees to move on to face the Rays in the ALDS, where they would have been ground into paste.
There’s a serious advantage to winning your division because you get some added rest and wild-card weekend would be absolutely wild. There, everyone wins.