August 12, 2022

14-team MLB playoff format reportedly discussed for 2022

Last season, the Chicago Cubs won NL Central, but didn’t get a chance to play in the NLDS, due to the expanded playoffs. Well that, and because the Marlins blew them away at home in their mini-playoff series.

In case you forgot: In an effort to create a fair playoff ground for a shortened season (and, let’s be honest, recoup some of the money lost to the pandemic), MLB and the players’ union have come together on a fair deal. before the start of the 2020 season. to expand the playoff format from five teams per league (three division winners and two Wild Cards) to eight teams per league (the first and second team in each division plus two Wild Cards) . When October rolled around, the No. 3-ranked, No. 1 Cubs played the No. 2, No. 6-ranked Marlins at Wrigley Field, and I think you know the rest.

This year, however, we’re back to the normal pre-2020 rules. Division winners, plus two Wild Cards who play a player to move on. That’s 10 total playoff teams out of 30 MLB teams, the smallest playoff field in professional sports.

Before the start of the season there was an effort to extend the playoffs again, with owners offering Universal DH as a chip for union approval, but players rejected the idea and that’s where both proposals are dead (for now). With the collective bargaining agreement (CBA) at the end of the year, neither party wanted to push too hard or give too far.

But what about 2022? Will an expanded post-season format return as soon as next season? And if so, what might that look like? Ken Rosenthal discussed this on a recent podcast on The Athletic, mine in bold (Apple, Spotify):

As for the expanded playoffs, last year was obviously unusual. And having the sixteen teams in the playoffs that was the result of the 60-game season and maybe MLB was trying to make money, create more excitement, give more teams a chance because of the 60-game season and that was fine for then.

I wouldn’t be in favor of this particular format in the future, because it didn’t reward the winner of the division, it didn’t reward the best overall record – any of these teams could have lost straight away in this Wild Card round.

Going forward, what has been discussed is a 14-team playoff, seven in each leaguein which some of those things I just mentioned – home field advantage for the division champion, penalizing the Wild Card, best overall record gets an advantage – all will be taken care of….

And I expect that in the new ABC, as part of the give and take that will take place, not just with the DH, but with everything that’s going on, the union will agree to an expanded playoff….

Rosenthal goes on to explain that – at this time – players and union officials are not entirely on board with the expanded playoff format, fearing it will discourage competition and possibly reduce organizational expenses, but he admits that he “fully expects(s) this to be done.

Unfortunately, we don’t have too many details left – and, frankly, I wouldn’t even stick to the seven-team format that was allegedly discussed, because who knows where these CBA negotiations will take us – but that’s more just a start. If Ken Rosenthal hears that those talks are already happening *and* may include details like “seven-team” formats, you can bet it’s there.

I wonder how a seven-team format would work though. Would there be four Wild Card teams? Would the second place team in each division achieve this? Or would MLB move to an NBA format (it won’t happen), where the top seven records in each league progress?

And that’s not all, once all seven teams are selected, would the best record in each league get a bye in the first round, leaving the other two division winners to play the two lowest seeds? Even with home field advantage, a short three-game streak before the NLDS doesn’t seem like enough reward to win your division, does it? Or am I just salty because the Cubs lost in 2020?

And, of course, the format could change again when MLB expands to 32 teams and potentially restructures every league to accommodate the new teams. I know it’s not to the right around the corner, but it could certainly happen before the end of the decade.

The expanded playoffs are just one of many big changes coming to baseball this winter. I just hope that whatever they land, they land there without forcing a work stoppage, for so many obvious reasons. Also, more at home: The Cubs need as much time as possible to succeed this offseason and a long battle over the playoffs or any other change at the CBA will only narrow that window of opportunity.

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