MLB in 2020? New Playoff Format with Division Realignment
An inside look on a logical playoff format that can be integrated with the shortened 2020 MLB season
HIGHLAND HEIGHTS, Ky. -- Rumors have been floating around social media about Major League Baseball resuming "spring training" activities in mid-June with Opening Day slated for July 1, 2020; this is just a rumor, but Major League Baseball will post details regarding a potential, shortened season.
As Noah and I mentioned in previous podcasts, a 100-game season seems feasible where we could see plenty of separation for potential playoff seeds. What is the catch though? Well, Major League Baseball tossed around the idea of three ten-team divisions to ensure teams will not have to travel far for games. The proposed divisions are the West, Central, and East; the National League and American League teams from their normal, respective divisions will join forces based on regional location. Remember that this is only for the duration of the 2020 season.
The Possible Divisions
West- Los Angeles Angels, Houston Astros, Texas Rangers, Oakland Athletics, Seattle Mariners, Los Angeles Dodgers, San Diego Padres, San Francisco Giants, Arizona Diamondbacks, and Colorado Rockies.
Central- Minnesota Twins, Cleveland Indians, Chicago White Sox, Detroit Tigers, Kansas City Royals, Cincinnati Reds, Chicago Cubs, St. Louis Cardinals, Milwaukee Brewers, and Pittsburgh Pirates.
East- New York Yankees, Boston Red Sox, Tampa Bay Rays, Toronto Blue Jays, Baltimore Orioles, Washington Nationals, New York Mets, Atlanta Braves, Miami Marlins, and Philadelphia Phillies.
What Would the Postseason Look Like?
None of the reports to this point have given any indication towards a postseason format so this is all just speculation on our end. One possible format would be to take the top two teams from each division, then take the two remaining teams with the best records for a total of 8 teams. Obviously this is a smaller postseason than in regular years, but shortening the playoffs allows the regular season to be extended further. MLB has given every indication that they want to play as many games as possible, a longer regular season, with a shorter postseason, would certainly allow them to do this. A shorter postseason would also allow MLB to advance into the offseason at a reasonable time frame, allowing time for free agency and for players to have the time off they need to recover and prepare for the next season. While it's not the only possibility, it is one that seems to make sense and sets up an easy transition into the hopefully normal 2021 season.
Fallout in Future Seasons
Looking at the proposed divisions above, you may have noticed that AL and NL teams will be playing together. This opens the door for some rule changes that would not only effect this season, but the many seasons to come. The most likely change would come in the form of a universal DH. Regardless of whether you prefer a universal DH, or no DH at all, you can probably agree that it's silly that the AL and NL play with two different sets of rules. Strategy between the two leagues is completely different and gives the AL a large competitive advantage because they essentially have an extra bat in the lineup. They also have the advantage in free agency because they can sign aging hitters to longer contracts, not having to worry about whether or not they can hold their own in the field. Sure, they could follow the same rules as usual, DH at AL stadiums and no DH at NL stadiums, but why not try something different given this years circumstances. If it doesn't work, they could just throw it out and go back to normal next season.
This season also provides some insight into possible realignment in the future. The last expansion took place 23 years ago, in 1997, with the addition of the Tampa Bay Devil Rays and the Arizona Diamondbacks. While it would probably be another seven or eight years before an expansion occurs, it's not out of the realm of possibility that we could see one sometime in the near future. If an expansion were to occur, two teams would likely be added. This would allow MLB to realign into eight divisions of four teams each, something to keep an eye on as you watch potential matchups this season.
It is imporant to realize that it is all just speculation at this point, but it is a real possibility that baseball will soon be on the horizon. Jeff Passan, of ESPN, recently reported that "teams are telling players to get ready and get in shape." MLB is expected to send a proposal to the Players Union soon regarding return-to-play. Playing in home stadiums has become the preffered option for most involved in the game, even if it means playing without fans in attendence.