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Would MLB’s potential playoff changes alter the Yankees’ recent October outcomes?

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Let’s hop in the DeLorean and do some investigating.

New York Yankees second baseman DJ LeMahieu hits a home run in the ninth inning of the ALCS Game 6 Photo by J. Conrad Williams, Jr./Newsday via Getty Images

Baseball Twitter has been a wild place to be this offseason. From bickering between Yu Darvish and Christian Yelich to a wildfire of conspiracies involving buzzers and Carlos Beltran’s niece, it’s been an interesting couple of months in the baseball world.

Monday afternoon began with more of the same when it was revealed that Mike Bolsinger was suing the Astros for their part in damaging his career due to stealing signs. Joel Sherman poured some gasoline on the baseball Twitter fire by breaking the news of MLB’s potential changes to the current playoff format that could happen as early as 2022. From expanding the playoff field from five to seven teams and allowing the top teams to pick their first-round opponent, there were plenty of strong reactions to the proposed alterations. I happen to be on the side that believes these proposals won’t have the desired changes that MLB hopes they will, like increasing the amount of teams spending and trying to finish at the top. Regardless, this calls for a look back at recent years to see how the Yankees would have fared in the postseason if using this proposed format.

Let’s keep things within the past three seasons:

2019

The Yankees defied the odds and won 103 games last season despite the IL eclipsing the length of a CVS receipt, and had the second-best record in the American League. With the proposed playoff changes, the playoff teams last year, in order of best to worst record, would have been the Astros, Yanks, Twins, A’s, Rays, Cleveland and the Red Sox (the last team in the league that finished above .500). That would have given Houston a bye to avoid the Wild Card round, while the Yankees would have the first pick of opponent between the last three teams in. Who would they have chosen?

The Rays would have presented a tough test, having beaten the Yanks in five of their last eight head-to-head meetings in the regular season. Charlie Morton would have been a difficult challenge in Game One, even though the Bombers would have been able to avoid the awful Trop. That leaves Cleveland or Boston. Here’s the interesting part: the Yanks would have put so much pressure on themselves by picking to face their bitter rivals in a short series, but they also went 14-5 against the Red Sox in 2019, and Boston had shut down Chris Sale. Wouldn’t they take that matchup and avoid Cleveland’s strong pitching staff in a short series? I think so.

Wild Card round: Yankees beat Red Sox 2-1, Twins beat A’s 2-1, Rays beat Cleveland 2-1.

I think Minnesota picks Oakland to make them take the trip from out west, while avoiding Cleveland, which had the pitching to quiet the Twins’ high-powered lineup and was basically dead even in head-to-head matchups during the regular season. So look at that, we have the same ALDS matchups as we did in the real world, so we can assume the playoffs played out as normal, though the World Series could have changed since Houston would have had a different opponent. Hopefully the Astros still lost so the integrity of another World Series wasn’t in question. That’s just bad for baseball.

2018

The playoff teams for this season, again in order by record, would have been the Red Sox, Astros, Yankees, A’s, Cleveland, Rays and, get this: the Mariners! The long and painful Octoberless streak is over, Seattle fans! Rejoice! Okay, this isn’t real life, but let those poor fans dream.

Boston would get the bye, so Houston would get first dibs on making its pick. Safe to say it would take Seattle, which won just 84 games that season. Since this proposed format still awards division winners, Cleveland would pick next, despite winning just 91 games in what was a weak AL Central. No way they choose the 100-win Yanks or the red-hot A’s, who went 16-9 in September and won both regular season series against Cleveland. So it looks like the Yankees would, you guessed it, still host Oakland in the Wild Card round, only for a three-game set this time instead of a winner-take-all. The A’s had a rough time in the Bronx in the 2018 Wild Card Game, so I still think the Yanks come out on top.

Wild Card Round: Astros beat Mariners 2-0, Rays beat Cleveland 2-1, Yankees beat A’s 2-1.

I like the Rays in the upset, another team that finished the regular season on fire in 2018. So we have the Red Sox taking on the Rays and the Yanks heading to Houston to once again play the Astros. Both teams’ rotations would likely be at least a little jumbled at this point, since MLB plans on playing these Wild Card rounds in consecutive days and starting the LDS shortly after. However, Houston avoided a third game, so it’s more prepared and has home field, so I’m thinking the Yanks are bounced in this round again, leaving the ALCS the same as it was that year, with the Astros taking on the Red Sox.

2017

This season kind of highlights the potential problems with this format, as two sub-.500 teams would get in. The teams, in order of record, would have been Cleveland, the Astros, Red Sox, Yankees, Twins, Royals and Angels (Trout getting into the playoffs is a plus!), the latter two boasting records of 80-82. So Cleveland advances, the Astros likely pick the Royals to avoid Trout, the Red Sox certainly avoid the Yankees, who were quickly closing the gap on them in the division, and take the Angels, leaving the Yankees and Twins to again face off in the Wild Card Round.

Wild Card Round: Astros beat Royals 2-0, Red Sox beat Angels 2-1, Yankees beat Twins 2-0.

So now we once again have history repeating itself, with the same ALDS matchups as the ones that actually unfolded in 2017. We can say once again that the Astros would come out of the American League, though maybe this time a different National League team makes the World Series and beats Houston.