Changing the MLB Postseason Format after 2020?
COVID-19 changed the postseason rules for 2020, but they should change for good
HIGHLAND HEIGHTS, Ky. -- As we all know, the 2020 MLB season was full of ambiguity and rule changes, but some of them were efficient and provided excitement for all fan bases across the United States; the most exciting rule change was the Postseason format, where sixteen teams had the chance of claiming the title of "World Champion."
Major League Baseball has not seen a playoff expansion since the Expanded Wild Card game was announced by former Commissioner, Bud Selig, in 2012. This expansion opened two wild card playoff spots; one for the National League and one for the American League. MLB endorsed this format to the public, where they stated that there would be a one-game elimination for the Wild Card round in each league. This sparked interest among fans due to the fact that Major League Baseball has never had a "one and done" playoff game.
Now, in 2020, current MLB Commissioner, Rob Manfred, decided to spice things up a bit. Due to COVID-19 and the delayed start of the season, teams were only permitted to play 60 games, contrasted to the usual 162 games. Because of the small sample size of games, MLB decided to open the Postseason to sixteen teams. This was a fantastic idea by the Commissioner because this decision was questionable to the public; some fans and media embraced this idea and loved it, while others thought it tainted the sport and promoted mediocrity among the sub-par .500 clubs. Regardless of what side you are on in this argument, you cannot deny that this was the media attention MLB needed.
So, the Postseason format changed. What did it look like? Well, the Postseason had a Wild Card round instead of the traditional Wild Card game. What was the difference? For the Wild Card round, it consisted of a best-of-three series among all matchups; the traditional Wild Card game was a single-elimination game, where the winner of that game squared up against the top seed of their respective league for a five-game series.
Here is what the 2020 Postseason bracket looked like from an outside perspective:
How did the seeding work in each league? The three division winners were seeded 1-3 and were guaranteed to play at home. The fourth-seeded team was one of the Wild Card teams with the best record among the other Wild Card teams in their respective league, which gave them a home-field advantage. How was there a home-field advantage? Due to COVID-19 restrictions mandated by MLB, the home team got to play all of their Wild Card series games at their home ballpark; the kicker to this was that the higher-seeded team would still 'technically' be the away team for one game. The Wild Card round was the only round where all the games would be played at the higher seed's ballpark.
After the Wild Card round, teams advanced to the traditional five-game Division Series. The only aspect of the Division Series that could be categorized as 'non-traditional' would be that each division matchup was played at neutral site city ballparks:
Houston, Texas Minute Maid Park - NLDS (National League Division Series)
Arlington, Texas Globe Life Field - NLDS (National League Division Series)
San Diego, Calif. Petco Park - ALDS (American League Division Series)
Los Angeles, Calif. Dodger Stadium - ALDS (American League Division Series)
This worked extremely well due to a notable balance of fairness among the eight remaining teams. The neat aspect of the neutral site cities was that the National League teams were playing in American League ballparks, and American League teams were playing in National League ballparks. After the ALDS and the NLDS, the remaining four teams advanced to the Championship Series. The NLCS, National League Championship Series, was played in Arlington, Texas, and the ALCS, American League Championship Series, was played in San Diego, Calif.
The MLB Postseason bubble worked well for the Division and Championship rounds, so it must have worked well for the World Series, right? Absolutely! The crowd was electric. Globe Life Field in Arlington, Texas, the new home of the Texas Rangers, hosted the first neutral-site World Series in MLB history. The Fall Classic was a smashing hit, where the Los Angeles Dodgers finally avenged for their first World Series title since 1988. Even though the stadium did not look packed, due to COVID-19, fans from across the United States came and got to witness a historical six games. The World Series in Arlington, Texas, was the first time in 2020 that MLB allowed fans at a reduced capacity, and they nailed it! MLB Personnel were able to maintain a safe, healthy environment with fans spread out across the stadium. Could you imagine how electric the stadium would be at full capacity?
With this context, it is safe to say that baseball is back and better than ever! With the unexpected tribulations of COVID-19, MLB was able to sustain a 60-game season, introduce a new playoff format when they were in crisis management mode, and finish by the end of October! Should MLB adopt the temporary Postseason format permanently, and if so, how? Yes. Subjectively, the Wild Card round was the most exciting. As most of the readers know, I am a die-hard Oakland Athletics fan. Seeing them drop the first game against the Chicago White Sox and then avenge them in the second and third games was a riveting experience! For the past two years, I have dealt with one-game playoff eliminations and it was extremely frustrating. I kept asking myself, why is it that MLB teams play 162 games a year, three- to four-game series to have it all come down to one game? Without a doubt in my mind, baseball would be better if they adopted the 2020 Postseason format for the future because it would be exciting for the players, owners, fans, and non-fans that could be introduced to the best playoffs in sports.