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Thinking through changes to MLB’s playoff format (Vol. 3)

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Our series on possible playoff changes concludes.

Divisional Series - Minnesota Twins v New York Yankees - Game Two Photo by Brace Hemmelgarn/Minnesota Twins/Getty Images

Following our series discussing possible changes to the current playoff structure, it is time for the final segment. Unlike the previous two, this will cover an alteration on the drastic side of the spectrum. It’s as drastic as a change in this topic can be: playoff expansion.

In every sport, there’s always a push to increase, expand, and ultimately make more money in any possible way. The NFL already stretched out its teams with an extra playoff spot for each conference and a 17th regular season game. Make no mistake about the fact that the MLB Commissioner’s office is looking to do the same.

Because the regular season is plenty long enough, MLB expansion is still at least a few years away, and will probably only come after the situations with Oakland and Tampa are resolved. So the shortest way to increased revenue is through postseason expansion.

In an ideal world, I’d be satisfied with keeping the current format, making small tweaks here and there if any. However, an ideal world is just that. Thus, it makes more sense — and it is also the purpose of this article — to present different proposals that satisfy the need for more games and subsequently more revenue, without jeopardizing the integrity and exclusivity of MLB’s postseason.

Whatever happens, we must avoid implementing something at all costs that even remotely resembles the format put in place for the 2020 season. It didn’t compromise the validity of that campaign, but that’s not really the point and it never was. It was an emergency fix for a 60-game season and shouldn’t be treated as a valid possibility for future October futures.

These are two proposals worth considering:

1. Longer series with the same number of teams

Wild Card Round - Best of three
Divisional Series - Best of seven
Championship Series - Best of seven
World Series - Best of seven

Consider this more moderate proposal. MLB would maintain its number of playoff teams per league at five and also gain an extra six games per postseason at the bare minimum, with the potential of going as high as twelve.

Regarding the setup for home-field advantage, it’d be as follows:

Wild Card Round: Three games in two days at the home of the team with the best record. One doubleheader and then a third game the following day if needed.

Divisional, Championship & World Series: The old 2-3-2 scheme

World Series: 2-3-2-2

2. Moderate expansion following the old NFL format

Six teams qualified per league; No. 1 and No. 2 seeds get automatic byes

Wild Card Round (best of three):
No. 3 (Division winner with worst record) vs. No. 6 (Wild Card with the worst record)
No. 4 (best Wild Card) vs, No. 5 (second best Wild Card)

Divisional Series (best of seven):

No. 1 vs. lowest-seeded winner of the Wild Card Round
No. 2 vs. highest-seeded winner of the Wild Card Round

Both League Championship and World Series remain the same.

This proposal is a dramatic change from the current structure. However, it remains reasonable with there being a big difference between six and eight teams per league. In terms of extra games, we could see that number going from the minimum of 10 to the maximum of 18.

Ultimately, it remains a question of how much you want to stretch the cord from both sides currently negotiating the new CBA. I’d personally like to see the first option implemented before the latter because the tendency is always to go further, and it leaves the door open for the second proposal some years down the line.

If you opt for the second proposal right now, it feels like jumping one too many steps and there’s no turning back. Although whichever way you go, it feels like this is about as far as it can stretch. Including more than six teams in the playoffs is not something that will be good for the sport.