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Thinking through changes to MLB’s playoff format (Vol. 1)

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Baseball’s current playoff format brings plenty of excitement, but it could be better.

2021 World Series Game 6: Atlanta Braves v. Houston Astros Photo by Mary DeCicco/MLB Photos via Getty Images

There are many uncertainties surrounding this year’s off-season. The negotiations for the new Collective Bargaining Agreement have been running tense, and it leaves the sport in a precarious position where no one quite knows what the rules governing next season and beyond might be.

Over the coming months, the outlook is uncertain, and many different topics and issues will be at the forefront. One of them is the matter of MLB’s playoff format.

The current postseason system for Major League Baseball seems to be generally well-regarded, and a sentiment that I share. However, there are a few aspects that need to be addressed with a healthy sense of urgency. With that in mind, I’ll be looking at a few changes that baseball could use to improve their current system.

Again, MLB’s playoffs don’t need major surgery, and I won’t propose anything radical that will have a massive impact on how the postseason currently operates. Rather, I’d like to propose tweaks that stay within the realm of possibility, even if there are obstacles in place.

The purpose behind these alterations is simply to try and make the playoffs as fair as they can be, without taking anything away from the excitement and unpredictability of postseason baseball.

Here’s the first, straightforward alteration MLB should consider:

Reseeding following the Wild Card round

Baseball’s playoffs could improve significantly in terms of fairness if they simply reseeded ahead of the divisional series. The reason for this change is very simple. You often hear about rewarding the division winners and “punishing” the Wild Card teams during postseason play, but failing to reseed after the Wild Card round takes the punishment too far.

The reward for a division title, obviously, is that the team goes straight to the Division Series. The Wild Card teams have to play an extra round. That in itself does enough to penalize teams that don’t win their division.

Let’s take this year for example. The Giants won 107 games and had arguably their greatest regular season. But because the two best teams in the NL happened to play in the same division, San Francisco had to face the 106-win Los Angeles Dodgers in their first playoff series, once the Dodgers defeated the Cardinals in the Wild Card Game.

Had MLB reseeded after the Dodgers’ Wild Card victory, LA would have squared off with Milwaukee in the division series, and the Giants would have had a date with the (eventual champion) Braves. Atlanta went on a run of course, but had you given the Giants the option of facing the star-laden Dodgers or the 88-win Braves a month ago, they certainly would have chosen Atlanta.

Ultimately, the current system just rewarded the team with the worst record left in the postseason. Instead of punishing the Wild Card team, essentially, the number-three seed that snuck through in a weak division got an unjust reward.

We can even look at the Yankees to see how the playoff system could be tweaked. In 2018, the Yankees defeated the Athletics in the Wild Card Game, and advanced to play the Red Sox in the divisional round. This was actually unfair to Boston! The 108-win Red Sox and 100-Yankees squared off in the ALDS, while the second-seeded Astros got to face the 91-win Cleveland team that just happened to win the AL Central that year.

It’s a small change, but it could help make the playoffs run smoother. We’ll see soon enough what changes MLB does decide to make to its postseason structure as CBA talks progress.