The Major Leagues and the challenge of achieving success in the new playoff format

The Philadelphia Phillies earned baseball’s last playoff berth on Monday, and Bryce Harper and company partied into the night. “We are in! We did it! We did it!” yelled slugger Rhys Hoskins as the celebration got underway.

It’s Philadelphia’s first playoff appearance since 2011, and no one seemed to care that he came through one of the three NL wild cards.

It is the first year of the new major league playoff format, part of the negotiations that resulted in theMarch labor agreementwhich ended a 99-day lockout. Each league has three wild cards, taking the postseason field from10 to 12 teams.

Philadelphiasecured his spotafter Seattle secured an American League wild card Friday night fortheir first playoff berth in 21 years. The other wild-card teams are Toronto and Tampa Bay in the American League, and San Diego and the runner-up NL East in the NL.

“For us it was ending the drought, so it gave us an additional opportunity,” Mariners infielder Ty France said. “But I think it’s a cool, cool structure that they have and the setup that they have.”

The new look for October has erased some of the usual tension of the final days of the regular season. But there is still valuable positioning at stake for playoff teams.

The top two division winners in each league get first-round byes, and the remaining four qualifiers play best-of-three series in the wild-card round on three consecutive days. The winner of the third division is the highest seed in that group, with other clubs ordered by their records. The top seeds in each matchup host the entire series.

Gone are the days of win-or-go-home wild card games in every league.

“It’s felt like a wild card team, just playing one game and having a full season whittled down to one game, it never felt right,” said Chris Antonetti, president of baseball operations for the Cleveland Guardians. “So having a few extra games in the wild card round makes sense.”

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The playoffs were expanded to 16 teams for the pandemic-delayed 2020 season as part of an agreement between Major League Baseball and the players’ union. But the field dropped back to 10 when the majors played a full season last year.

Seeking more television revenue, Major League Baseball proposed 14 playoff teams during recent labor negotiations. But it was installed in the 12 after the resistance of the players.

“It’s not worth it, understanding that the reasoning is TV money, and that doesn’t make sense to the guys that are playing,” said New York Yankees reliever Zack Britton, who sits on the union’s executive subcommittee. . “We know exactly what teams would do if you continue to add more and more teams to the playoffs. There is no incentive to win.”

It’s hard to know if the 12-team format had any effect on the postseason run. The Guardians, champions of the mediocre AL Central, are the only playoff team that didn’t make multiple trades before the trade deadline.

“I think he’s kept more teams,” Tampa Bay manager Kevin Cash said. “And you also talk about rebuilds or teams that get aggressive with the addition of young players. I feel like it stayed very competitive. If it has changed, it has been positive.”

Seeking its first playoff appearance since 2016, Baltimore brought in touted prospect Gunnar Henderson on Aug. 31. The New York Mets promoted catcher Francisco Álvarez from the minors on September 30, giving their top prospect a shot during a pennant race.

The Orioles would have made a 14-team playoff field, along with the Brewers in the National League. Depending on the results in the final days of the season, a 14-team field could have included every major league team that finished over .500.

“I think it would have been too many teams,” Mariners pitcher Robbie Ray said. “You don’t want teams that are limping around with a record close to .500. I think you should still be close to 90 wins to get in.”

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