Expanded playoffs are returning to Major League Baseball this season, and now, we have a pretty good idea as to how many post-season seeds will be included in this new format.
Among the several topics discussed, MLB and the players union appear to have found some common ground regarding the redesigned playoff system that’ll be introduced during the 2022 season. While the owners have been pushing very hard for a 14-team format, the PA has argued that opening the field to nearly half the majors could negatively impact the game’s competitive balance even further.
Up until recently, most owners were strongly against that notion and didn’t seem to be willing to budge off their proposal. But late Monday night/early Tuesday morning, both sides made significant progress towards a compromise involving a 12-team expanded post-season.
At this current moment, nothing has been finalized just yet, however, it appears the playoffs will more than likely consist of 12 clubs, rather than 14, moving forward. Either way, shifting away from the old system, which included just 10 seeds and an outdated winner-takes-all Wild Card Game, is great news for baseball.
Expanding on this situation, not only is this a fantastic development for the sport, but it should also be extremely beneficial for juggernaut divisions like the American League East. More specifically, this new format has the potential to greatly benefit the Toronto Blue Jays.
After missing the playoffs by just 1.0 game last season, there’s no question the Blue Jays would be in favour of expanding beyond five teams per league. Though only one additional spot is expected to be added to the AL, doing so would’ve allowed this franchise to earn a wild-card appearance in 2021.
Instead, this team’s impressive 91-71 record finished fourth in the AL East and third amongst clubs competing for the top two wild-card seeds, which were controlled by the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees.
Unfortunately, being witness to an extremely competitive division isn’t something new for Toronto as this has been a recurring theme over the past several seasons. More often than not, the AL East will consist of two elite opponents, if not three, making a path to the post-season extremely difficult.
Providing some history to this situation, at least two clubs from this division have won a minimum of 90 games eight separate times since 2010. Not including the COVID-shortened 2020 campaign, there have only been three seasons (2014, 2015, 2016) where only one franchise has featured 90 victories or more during this span.
With playoffs expanded to 16 teams in ’20, three of those 16 seeds came from the AL East – including the Blue Jays, Yankees and Tampa Bay Rays.
As things currently stand, a similar situation is likely to occur this season as ZIPS projects
three AL East clubs (Yankees – 90, Blue Jays – 89, Rays – 88) to finish around 90 wins. Once roster construction is completed for these organizations, each of their win totals will almost certainly increase dramatically ahead of Opening Day.
Not to mention, the Red Sox – who won 92 games last season – are currently projected at 83 wins in ’22 and barring any major surprises, should improve that figure once the off-season resumes. At which point, there’d be four legitimate playoff contenders from just one division battling for three post-season spots, at least, under the previous format.
One additional wild-card spot might not seem like much, however, it should help solve this dire problem long term. Under this updated format, the chances of being edged out of the playoff picture by three of the top teams from the AL East will be significantly reduced. In fact, there’s now the potential for four post-season teams to come from the same division with three wild-card seeds up for grabs.
Imagine having all four of the Blue Jays, Yankees, Rays and Red Sox in the playoffs – what a wild and fairly realistic experience that’d be, especially during this era.
Sure, in most cases, a 14-team field would greatly benefit Toronto over one that consists of 12 clubs, particularly over the long haul. In saying that, it’s understandable why the players union has serious concerns about extending the pool to that size.
In a day and age where far too many franchises favour tanking for a top draft pick over contending for the playoffs, it wouldn’t be too far-fetched to envision a future where a handful of contenders just simply coast into October. With four wild-card seeds available, prioritizing rest down the stretch would be more feasible in this format than opposed to the other option.
Even though this is a pretty common occurrence in other professional sports, the PA remains adamant it has very little interest in adapting it to MLB.
Nevertheless, any expansion of the playoffs should be considered a major victory for the Blue Jays, both for present and future versions of this roster. With a young core headlined by Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Bo Bichette, this club is securely positioned to contend for many seasons to come, starting with 2022.
Surrounded by integral pieces like George Springer, Teoscar Hernandez, Jose Berrios, Kevin Gausman, Alek Manoah, Hyun-Jin Ryu and more, the addition of one extra wild-card spot will only improve their chances of making continuous playoff runs.
Though it’s near impossible to determine right now, perhaps expanded playoffs can prolong Toronto’s window of contention beyond its current time frame. Rather than five or six years, maybe this franchise can remain competitive closer to a decade – something its fanbase would certainly be on board with.
Whatever the future holds, one thing is for sure, Canadian baseball fans have plenty to be excited about in ’22, that is, once a new CBA is officially signed.