December 2, 2022

Baseball playoff format could expand to 12 or 14 teams; is this a good thing?


Somehow, the 1993 Giants don’t care about collective bargaining in baseball.

With headlines focusing on big-budget talks between owners and players over salary arbitrage, revenue sharing and luxury taxes, some fans might be more interested in what’s to come in October. .

Playoff bracket as we know it is history. Ten teams, five in each league, three division winners and two jokers. A perfect format, right?

A third of 30 teams make the playoffs, and that’s a superior system to the NBA, where making the playoffs is more common than missing them – 16 out of 30 teams make it, and it’s no wonder that superstars rest so often.

Load management is widely practiced in the NBA to limit injuries, but teams also do it because they can — because the safety of a crowded playoff court diminishes the importance of the regular season. .

In negotiations for a new labor deal in baseball, owners are pushing to expand the playoff range from 10 to 14 teams while players are accepting 12 so far.

The field would be crowded like the NBA, NHL (16 of 32 teams advance) and NFL (14 of 32) and provide opportunities for teams with losing records to sneak into the playoffs, a funny way to reward the mediocrity.

That’s quite a difference from the San Francisco 93ers — Barry Bonds, Will Clark, Bill Swift, Rod Beck and Co. — who won 103 games only to be eliminated on the final day of the season because the Braves, who have won first place, won 104. card then. Win the division or go home. The Giants have gone home. Two years later, in 1995, MLB introduced the joker.

Imagine what Yogi Berra has to say about baseball heaven, the guy who appeared 14 times in the World Series, winning 10, both records, in an era when only the team with the best record in each league made the playoffs, going straight to the World Series. No preliminary rounds.

What is it, Yogi?

“No one is going to the playoffs anymore. There are too many people.”

A beefier knockout bracket is on the table for the same reason everything else is on the table. Money. A lot of money. Postseason games generate tons of TV (and portal) revenue for owners, and players use playoff support as bargaining chips to get what they want on other fronts.

The playoff field grew to four teams in 1968 (leagues were split into two divisions) to eight in 1995 (a third division in each league was added with a wildcard) to 10 in 2012 (the second wildcard).

Now it will be 12 or 14.

With 14 playoff teams last season, a fourth American League East team would have been included, Toronto, with Seattle, as well as the Reds and Phillies in the National League despite winning 83 and 83 respectively. 82 matches.

Is this really what we want? To date, the teams with the fewest wins to reach the playoffs in unshortened seasons were the 1973 Mets and Bruce Bochy’s Padres in 2005 with 82. Add two or four playoff teams to the mix, and 81 -81 could do it. Or something worse.

Traditionally, players have balked at expanding the playoffs. They know teams wouldn’t feel they had to spend so much money to reach the playoffs – which executives tend to say is a roll of the dice anyway – because of the perception that they could win 82 to 85 games with or without the addition of free agents. Why spend more to build a 90-win team?

On the other hand, teams with designs on tanking might have second thoughts and spend more money to struggle, including at the trade deadline, knowing that a .500ish record might suddenly be playoff worthy. playoffs. Presumably we would see more buzz in more markets.

All of those additional teams would require an overhaul of the playoff format, and that’s where it gets confusing.

MLB offered the team with the best record a bye to the Division Series, with the other division winners picking their opponents from the lowest-ranked wildcard entries – how bad is that at all? weird? – and the team that is not chosen against the best finalist.

That would mean four best-of-three wildcard series, which would lengthen the tournament, extend the playoffs into November and prompt cries for a shorter regular season and possibly a return to the 154-game schedule.

We could see fewer divisions. Why even have divisions? Just adopt an NBA-style ranking format.

It’s a crazy time. The change keeps coming. The 1993 Giants would have liked to be able to make the playoffs rather than be avoided. The new playoff format will flood October, increasing the chance that the hottest team and not the best team will win the World Series.

While making the regular season count a little less.

John Shea is the national baseball writer for the San Francisco Chronicle. Email: [email protected]: @JohnSheaHey

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