As the old saying goes, if it ain’t broke, Rob Manfred will break it.
While Major League Baseball’s previous playoff format included the controversial wildcard game, which usually meant that at least a 90-win team would see their entire season come down to one game, it was also much easier to understand that the new support.
Implemented after the lockout, the new playoff format features six teams from each league and killed off the wildcard game in favor of a three-game wildcard series. While playing a best-of-three series is a better way to determine a superior team than a single game, it can also unintentionally hurt teams that win their split. Now the top two teams in each league get a bye in the first round, which is a lot more advantageous in other sports than in baseball. Rather than waiting for a game to see who their opponent is, the top two seeds could potentially have to sit out for three games, possibly disrupting their rhythm.
If the Mets can hold off the Braves to win National League East, they guarantee themselves a spot in the Division Series, which is always the best of five. If they have to settle for a wildcard berth, that means they have to win two games against the Phillies, Padres or Brewers before playing in an NLDS. For the Mets, losing the NL East would mean grabbing the No. 4 seed, as their final record should be much better than the other teams competing for a wild card spot. While a streak of wild cards means playing straight away and not having to worry about a layoff messing up their timing at home plate or the overall mojo in other aspects of the game, it also means having to deal with the Dodgers in the NLDS.
The winner of National League Central (presumably it will be the Cardinals, who have a 7.5-game lead entering Tuesday) is all but locked into the No. 3 seed. The Dodgers and their historic victory will put them in the No. 1 seed, and the NL East winner should have enough accumulated wins to come second. That leaves the Cardinals — unless they can make a spectacular run in September for the second straight season — as the division winner with the worst record, meaning they get third place.
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There is an argument to be made that the third seed is the best to get. That means playing the sixth seed in the wildcard round – and playing every game at home, as the higher seed has home advantage every game – then facing the No. 2 seed in the NLDS rather than the mighty Dodgers. The Dodgers will get the Game 4-5 winner no matter what. Even though the sixth seed comes as a surprise, MLB decided not to reseed for the next round. Think of it as NCAA Tournament support, where games are set in stone, allowing a team the potential luxury of an easier championship path if they come up against an underdog winner instead of the favored team. that the underdog eliminated.
So if the Mets win their division and win NL silver against the gold Dodgers, they’ll be waiting for the winner of the three-game series between St. Louis and the wild card team with the worst record.
If Atlanta wins the division, the Mets are suddenly in a three-game matchup with the fifth seed while the Braves relax. That most likely means seeing the Phillies (a team the Mets went 14-5 against this year) or the Padres, to whom they’ve lost four of six. While any team that makes the playoffs is good, other NL contenders are likely hoping the Brewers can fight their way through.
Sure, the Brewers have made the playoffs each of the past four years and they have a fearsome peak in pitching rotation. They’ve also scored just 11 points in their last seven playoff games, only one of which ended in a win at Milwaukee. As a team, the Brew Crew rank only slightly above average on offense this season as Christian Yelich’s slugging percentage continues to decline. Taking two of the Brewers’ three seems like a much less daunting task than doing it against the Phillies or the Padres, both of whom have much more star-studded lineups to pair with their front-row throwing.
In short, winning the division is the Mets’ best course of action. A first-round bye might be a little odd, but it’s definitely better than having to fight your way through the NLDS, especially if said NLDS would be against the Dodgers.
Securing the NL East means wrapping up the No. 2 seed, not having to worry about a wobbly three-game streak, and not seeing the Dodgers before the NLCS. That gives them a much better chance of making the World Series than playing a wildcard streak, though the bye that comes with a division win might allow rust to set in.
Taking a few days off in the October heat can still be a problem, but with this new format which aims to reward the best teams in each league, it could be a classic case of having a good problem.