September 30, 2022

How MLB’s new postseason format changed the race for the 2022 playoffs

In October, MLB fans will witness one of the results of last winter’s lockout: the new 12-team playoff format. The compromise between ownership demands to add four teams to the playoffs and players’ desire to maintain the status quo, this new format removed the one-game play-ins between Wild Cards from leagues that had existed since 2012, added another Wild Card team, and established a best-of-three Wild Card series that includes everyone but the top two seeds in each league.

At the time, we thought about the implications of this change. Obviously the teams would appreciate the bye in the first lap, but how would that affect the rest of the race? Would there be more teams in the race in the second half of September? Theories abounded, but they were nothing more than that – theories. Without playing the games, we would have no idea what the impact would be. So now that we’re in the middle of the first playoff hunt with the new rules, what are the effects?

For starters, at the start of the game yesterday, here’s where the American League standings were, courtesy of Baseball Reference:

Because the top of the division is worse than the middle of the East or West, the Central would be in the same place under the old rules and the new: the White socks and, to a lesser extent, the Twins, pursue the Guardians, whose lead in the division is certainly not insurmountable. Similarly, the AL West would be safe for the Astros. In East and Wild Card races, however, things get a bit interesting.

Barring a hot streak at the end of the season by the Baltimore Orioles (something which, the way they’ve played this year, isn’t entirely out of the question), the other four playoff spots are claimed. One of the Yankees, Blue Jays and Rays will win the AL East, and the other two will be joined by the Seattle Mariners like the three Wild Cards. At this point, they are only fighting for the seeding and, in the case of the Eastern teams, a bye to the first round.

Under the old format, however, with just two Wild Card teams, one of those teams would find themselves on the outside looking – just like in 2021, when the Blue Jays finished the season with 91 wins but fell behind. found themselves spending time on the couch. . (The Mariners also barely missed last year, as they were also eliminated in Game 162.) Additionally, two of those teams would only be guaranteed one game, prompting a last-ditch push. minute for the AL East crown. Obviously, there would have been more drama under the old format.

Even with the Dodgers running away with the West, the National League is more interesting than the AL in this regard.

Under the old format, the Dishes and the Braves would fight to avoid the playoffs by one game, with the Phillies, Brewers, and Padres are jostling for second place Wild Card. Instead, the Mets and Braves are battling for the first-round bye (the Cardinals aren’t quite out of it yet), while the Phillies, Brewers and Padres are battling for two spots. It’s a couple of small changes, and obviously the races are still intense, but the race between the Phillies, Brewers and Padres doesn’t feel as intense as it would have last year. There is also no chance for all the game 163 do-or-die tiebreakers à la 1978, as these sadly went the way of the dodo in the new ABC, removing another fun twist to the impact of September baseball.

With so many spots already decided, especially in the American League, it remains to be seen how ball clubs will approach the final week(s) of the season. Typically, once a team landed the best possible spot, they began resting their players a bit more than usual; the only issue preventing teams from playing spring training is the end of expanded rosters of 40 players. The first-round exemption, however, means that teams like the Astros and Dodgers (and, if Abner Doubleday wants it, the Yankees too) will have several days off between the last day of the season and their first playoff game; in an attempt to avoid rust, could these teams treat the last week of the season more seriously?

We will find out soon enough. Either way, one fact is certainly clear: This extra location rewrote the typical playbook for the MLB playoff race.

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