LAS VEGAS — When the Phillies recovered against the Padres to win Game 5 of the National League Championship Series and clinch a trip to the World Series, they sent a message to the rest of the majors.
”I think this shows you [that] if you come in and play well, anything can happen,” Phillies president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski said during GM meetings.
The Phillies’ playoffs also upended Cubs president of baseball operations Jed Hoyer’s predictions about the new playoff format.
“I couldn’t have been more wrong about the National League,” Hoyer said.
The expanded playoffs this season featured a best-of-three wildcard first round, with the winners of the No. 1 and 2 seeded divisions getting a bye. Hoyer expected the passes to be a “huge perk.”
On the American League side, it seemed to be going that way. The Astros and Yankees qualified for the American League Championship Series. But the NL side of the support moved in the opposite direction. The Phillies and Padres carried the momentum of the wildcard series to upset the Braves and Dodgers in the NL Division Series.
What did Major League Baseball executives think of how the playoffs were going? And what did the Phillies’ run shed light on the Cubs’ approach to their rebuild?
Mariners president of baseball operations Jerry Dipoto reminisced about 2007, when he was in the front office for the Diamondbacks, who were swept by the Rockies in the NLCS. The Rockies were on a tear, going 14-1 to end the regular season and winning seven straight playoff games to claim the NL pennant. Then they waited over a week for all seven games of the ALCS to end and the World Series to begin.
“I don’t know if it would have really made a difference because the Red Sox were extremely talented at the time,” Dipoto said, “but [the Rockies] then just got steamrolled in the World Series. ”
The Red Sox outscored the Rockies 29-10 in a four-game Fall Classic sweep.
”Baseball is all about timing, and however long [of] a layoff can really disrupt your timing,” Dipoto said. ”I don’t know if that’s what we saw [this year] because it affected one league in a different way than the other, but I don’t think that’s a non-factor. ”
Dipoto’s team gained momentum in the AL Division series after ending a 20-year playoff drought and sweeping the Blue Jays in their wildcard streak. But the Mariners ran into the eventual World Series champion Astros.
The Guardians also swept their wild card streak but lost in the ALDS. President of Baseball Operations Chris Antonetti has reserved overall judgment on the playoff format for later.
”We had the two rains [against the Yankees], so we weren’t able to experience the format exactly as it was designed,” he said. ”But I really like the three-game joker at the start. I know there are trade-offs with days off for some teams, but I’ve never been a big fan of an entire season being down to one game.
Dombrowski called the format, which added a wildcard third place in each league and gave the No. 6-seeded Phillies a playoff chance, one of his favorite rule changes in recent memory. The designated universal hitter, another key to the Phillies’ success this season, was his other favorite.
“It was really fun to watch,” Hoyer said, “in the sense that Philly and San Diego felt like underdogs. And fan interest. [and] a point of view of intensity in the baseball stadium in these two markets, [it] was pretty awesome to watch. So I think having unexpected teams really activated those cities. ”
In the years to come, a clearer picture of the effects of the first-round bye may emerge. A larger sample size might even prove that Hoyer’s original prediction is correct. But the Phillies proved the new format hasn’t changed the fact that once a team makes the playoffs, if they play at the right time, they have a chance of winning.
Hoyer has higher aspirations and has repeatedly said he wants to build a team with “the best chance in October”. The Cubs aren’t positioned to achieve that goal this offseason, but that doesn’t stop them from trying to sneak into the playoffs in the interim and see what happens.
To do this, they will have to spend money this winter. And Hoyer said the Cubs would be aggressive in filling the holes on their roster.
“I think we certainly have the flexibility this winter to be competitive in the free agent market,” he said.