It is a year of experimenting for baseball. Just hours before Opening Day, MLB and the MLBPA agreed to one more change. The postseason for the 2020 season will be expanded from 10 teams to 16.
For now, it’s a one-time thing. This is the first expansion of the playoffs since 2012, with the addition of the Wild Card Game.
Of course, if a team wins the division, they’re in. But, if a team finishes second in the division, they’re also in. That takes care of 12 of the teams. The other four teams make it based on the best record of the teams left (essentially, the four best third-place teams; unless some fourth-place team steps up).
Here’s how the 2019 American League playoff situation would’ve looked like with this year’s format:
AL East AL Central AL West Wild Cards
1 New York Yankees 1 Minnesota Twins 1 Houston Astros Boston Red Sox
2 Tampa Bay Rays 2 Cleveland Indians 2 Oakland Athletics Texas Rangers
It’s actually really similar to the NHL’s format for deciding playoff teams. The only difference is MLB has six divisions compared to the NHL’s four. So, it’s the top two teams in a division instead of the top three.
The first round of the expanded playoff will be a best of three. The other rounds of the postseason remain the same (5-7-7).
One rule change stands out from any other format, however. To help give division winners an advantage, these teams will get to pick their opponents in the first round. Using the 2019 example: The Yankees wouldn’t play the Twins in this scenario. They could potentially pick the Texas Rangers as their opponent for the first round because they think they can beat up the Rangers.
This set up gives more teams a chance to make the playoffs and keep fans interested in the season for longer. In a short season, where it will be a close race by nature, this truly puts almost every team into contention until the very end.
ESPN’s Buster Olney said he sees this as a great way for MLB to make back some lost revenue while making the postseason more interesting.
The postseason is the biggest moneymaker for Major League Baseball. A few extra playoff games would generate a decent amount of lost money.