Should the MLB expand their playoff system?

Is five playoffs teams enough in the MLB

Michael Gross, Writer

In recent years, fans, players and baseball personnel have discussed whether or not the MLB should expand its playoff format. As of today, the MLB’s current playoff format consists of ten total teams, five from the National League (NL) and the American League (AL), with the six division winners automatically occupying three of the five spots per league. The remaining four berths are awarded to the teams with the best records. The winner of the wild card game goes on to face the division winner with the best record

One of the reasons it has been suggested that MLB  expand their playoff system is because of the four major sports in the United States–baseball, basketball, football and hockey–baseball has the fewest amount of teams who qualify for the playoffs. In football, six teams from each conference compete in the NFL playoffs. In hockey and basketball, eight teams from each conference qualify for the playoffs. The other argument for an expanded playoff system is that capable teams are routinely omitted from the playoffs.

Let’s first consider the merit of the latter argument. There is certainly a case to be made that this year’s Cleveland Indians, who missed the playoffs despite a record of 93-69, deserved a chance to participate in the postseason. Additionally, the Tampa Bay Rays twice finished the season 90-72 (2012, 2018) and failed to qualify for the postseason both times. 

However, not every season sees deserving teams omitted from the postseason. For example, had the playoffs expanded prior to the 2014 season, the 82-20 Milwaukee Brewers would have been awarded a playoff berth.

 Since the MLB implemented two additional wild card spots (one per league), the average record for the first two teams left out of the playoffs is 86-76.  The seventh best team in each league has an average record of 84-78 over that time period with several of those teams finishing below .500

Based on the average record of the sixth-best team since the MLB implemented an additional wild card berth, there is a good argument for having six teams from each league qualify for the playoffs. However, based on the records of the seventh and eighth place teams, there is little reason to expand beyond six. What fans want to see is the best baseball teams compete for an opportunity to win the World Series. The inclusion of mediocre teams would dilute the playoffs. 

Here is how the new format of the MLB playoffs should be: First, six teams from each league should qualify for the playoffs, with three division winners and three wild cards per league. Similar to the NFL playoffs, the MLB should have three rounds, including the wild card round. The two teams from each league with the best division records would be rewarded with a bye to the LDS and home field advantage in the LDS. The wild card round would feature the division winner from each league with the worst record as well as the wild cards from each league. The top two wild card spots from each league would play one game at the home field of the team with the better record. The winner goes to the LDS. Here is the catch: the division winners with the worst record from each league would play the wild card teams with the worst record from each league. However, this would not be a one-game series as that would de-incentivize division winning the division. Instead, it would be a best two-out-of-three series with the teams alternating home-field advantage. The division winner would host the first game and the third game, if necessary, while the wild card team would host the second game. The winner would advance to the LDS. 

In the LDS, the division winners with the best record from each league would play the lowest remaining wild card team. The division winners with the second best record in each league would face the highest remaining team. Remaining consistent with the current playoff format, these would be best-of-five series, with the winners advancing to the LCS. 

In this writer’s opinion, the MLB has the best playoff format of the four major American team sports because only the best teams qualify for the playoffs. The addition of a single additional wild card team would be beneficial, as capable teams would no longer find themselves ineligible for the postseason. However, any additions beyond six teams per league would diminish the importance of regular season success.