San Diego Padres relief pitcher Josh Hader delivers to a Kansas City Royals batter in the eighth inning of Sunday’s game in Kansas City, Mo. (AP Photo/Colin E. Braley)
Toronto Blue Jays’ George Springer (4) hits a solo homer in the ninth inning of Sunday’s game against the Los Angeles Angels in Toronto. (Christopher Katsarov/The Canadian Press via AP)
With an additional wild card in each league, we would have expected the following this year:
1. Teams at the top of the standings would be even more certain of their chances in the playoffs.
2. More teams overall could stay in contention.
So far, however, the impact of baseball’s expanded playoffs has been marginal.
According to playoff odds tracked by Fangraphs.com, six teams — the Dodgers, Mets, Astros, Yankees, Braves and Cardinals — have at least a 95% chance of making the playoffs. At this point last year – after every team had played at least 126 games – there were actually seven teams above the 95% mark. And that was with two fewer places available.
Over the past five full seasons — not including the shortened 2020 campaign — there have averaged 5.2 teams with at least a 95% chance of making the playoffs at this point in the season. So this year hasn’t changed much, even with the extension of the playoffs to 12 teams.
It’s a similar story on the other end of the spectrum. Currently, 14 teams have post-season odds below 5%. The average over the last five seasons? 14.4.
In other words, even under the new playoff system, the number of teams within striking distance is not significantly different from normal. Maybe that’s because adding a third joker in each league hasn’t really lowered the bar for making the playoffs.
It was feared that teams at or near .500 could qualify, but at least this year, it doesn’t look like that will happen. The Toronto Blue Jays, currently on the 87-game winning streak, currently hold the third wild card in the American League. In the National League, that spot belongs to the San Diego Padres, who are on pace with 88 wins.
Another way the new format was meant to change the regular season was to create an interesting race for the top two seeds in each league, as they receive byes into the divisional playoff round. It’s shaping up to be a disappointing pursuit in the AL, where the Astros and Yankees split from everyone else.
In the NL, however, the NL East champion will likely be the No. 2 seed, which means the race — the Mets lead the Braves by three games — could be quite tense.
Tale of two seasons
Josh Hader is still tied for the NL lead with 29 saves, but his season has been falling apart lately.
Hader didn’t allow a run in his first 19 appearances, and after a scoreless inning in Pittsburgh on July 3, he had a 1.05 ERA in 27 outings. Since then, he has allowed 25 runs in 13 innings and his ERA for the season is 6.52. The Padres, who acquired him in a recent trade with Milwaukee, gave him a break from the closest role.
If there had been a third wild card in each league last year, which teams would have qualified?
line of the week
Justin Verlander tossed six hitless innings and struck out 10 before being lifted in Houston’s 4-2 win over Minnesota on Tuesday night. Verlander was retired for throwing 91 pitches.
An honorable mention to Seattle’s George Kirby, who set a major league record with 24 consecutive strikes to start Wednesday’s game against Washington. He didn’t throw a pitch until the third inning, though the Nationals hit enough of those strikes to score a first run on Kirby.
Return of the week
The Charm City team has lived an enchanted life at times this year. The Baltimore Orioles fought their way into the race after losing 110 games in 2021. Perhaps their most dramatic victory came on Thursday night.
Led by a two-out run in the ninth-and-no one, rookie Kyle Stowers homered to tie the score against the White Sox. It was his first career home run – and it was made possible by an error earlier in his at-bat when he hit a foul fly that was not caught.
The Orioles won the game 4-3 in 11 innings.
The Blue Jays (91-71) and the Reds (83-79).