MLB’s expanded playoffs are an answer to a COVID impacted season. It’s likely on for 2021 as a catalyst of fan interest. Not so fast, though.
MLB’s decision to have expanded playoffs that include sixteen teams this year is sold as a means to heighten fan interest in more cities than usual.
Eight games on Wednesday scattered across the continent from noon to midnight, with “first-time long-time” teams like the Miami Marlins, San Diego Padres, and Chicago White Sox participating.
This would seem to suggest that Major League Baseball has done a good thing for the fans in these cities.
With no fans in the stands, though, we’ll never know if fans in Miami would eclipse by much their average of 10,016 game attendance for 2019.
Expanded Playoffs: A Second Look
We do know this much, though. A glance at the final standings for 2020 shows that two teams (Houston and Milwaukee) made the playoffs with sub-. Five hundred marks, and three more (Cincinnati and St. Louis eked in with records of a mere two games over the break-even mark.
MLB will argue that’s a result of more competition among the teams, and the outstanding team is few and far between.
Which doesn’t help to explain why eight teams finished the season at ten or more game over, and four (Tampa Bay, Los Angeles, Minnesota, and Oakland) of those teams managed to win three of every five games they played.
By definition, the playoffs are supposed to be when the best of the best square off against each other until only one team is left standing.
As the expanded playoffs exist now, though, there is a chance that any of those four teams can be eliminated as soon as tomorrow, when the best of three series will be completed, from further competition.
What is gained, for instance, if the Dodgers, who hold the best regular-season record, get knocked off in the first round of a crapshoot three-game series in which, for an unlucky team, anything that can go wrong will (witness the Yankees vs. Shane Bieber)?
Expanded Playoffs: A Deviation From The Cake-Box Recipe
The more you deviate from the recipe on the tried and true box cake – let me add a little more flour or sugar – the more you risk disappointment when the cake is removed from the oven.
Having said all that, we all know the real reason behind MLB’s expanded playoffs as a guise of a sudden interest in the fans of baseball.
Indeed, it’s the engine that runs America – money, and profits for shareholders.
Do not think for a moment that MLB has done anything for fans in introducing an extended playoff format. Instead, this is all about revenue from the networks that cover the postseason.
So be it. I’m not here to begrudge that, but there is a point where a watering-down of the product being sold takes place. We are dangerously at that point in baseball now.
I’d go so far as to suggest that MLB’s expanded playoffs are a move toward socialism, where wealth is spread throughout, regardless.
We already have that in baseball with revenue sharing and salary caps (a term of blasphemy among players) on payroll before a luxury tax kicks in on the big spenders.
The culprit in the current expanded playoffs format is what we see now with the best of three crapshoots in which there are no byes for the “best teams” in the league.
To eliminate this inequity, MLB knows what it needs to do. Baseball needs to expand to two more cities. Nashville, Montreal, Austin, Las Vegas – whatever – it needs to happen fast if, indeed, MLB will stick to the expanded playoffs format.
Why Not Put It On Cruise Control
Because other than pride, what motivation exists for a team like the Dodgers, Rays, Yankees, and so on to pull out all stops to win as many games as possible during the regular season?
The all-reverential home-field advantage?
Bleacher Report did a study in which they looked at 70 postseason series and two wild-card games from 2003 through 2012.
Amazingly, the team with home-field advantage won only 37 of those matchups, which translates to 51 percent overall. The home field holds no advantage in baseball.
Turn that around to today, and the Milwaukee Brewers (29-31) have as good a chance to make it to the World Series as the Dodgers (43-17) in the current format, home field or not.
Does The Cream Always Rise To The Top
Is baseball better off because the Minnesota Twins (35-25) have been eliminated from future play via the extended playoffs by the Houston Astros (29-31)? Did the better team win the crapshoot series?
That’s a debate among all enthusiasts of baseball to pursue. But I do know this much. Baseball is off on a different track, and once again, the dollar rules, even in the face of the ruse of increasing fan interest.
I don’t think of myself as a baseball purist, but I do insist that changes made to the game – like the universal DH and the man on second to start an extra-inning game – are made in the best interest of baseball, purportedly promoting the game at heart.
Caveat emptor – let the buyer beware – when it comes to the future of expanded playoffs in its current format.