7 ways the new playoff format could alter the season

March 14th, 2022

Of the cavalcade of changes that resulted from the new collective bargaining agreement, one of the most visible and discussed is the increase of playoff teams from 10 to 12. While it’s worth noting that this isn’t that dramatic of a change -- basically, it would have allowed Toronto and Cincinnati in the playoffs last year, though who knows how teams would have been incentivized had they known about the extra spots -- it will certainly change the sport, and how it is played.

How much will it change? Let’s take a look at some of the ways the new format will alter the regular season.

1. Winning the Wild Card actually means more than it did in the first place

This is counterintuitive, considering you would think having more of something (in this case, Wild Card spots) would make it less valuable. But the key here is the elimination of the Wild Card Game and the addition of a best-of-three series. Making a Wild Card before meant rolling the dice in a one-game playoff; one loss and you’re out. Now it’s two losses and you’re out. That makes the whole Wild Card enterprise slightly less random … and thus the spots that much more valuable. (And being the highest-seeded of the three Wild Card teams in your league also has extra value, as you’ll get to host all three games at home.)

2. Winning the division means more now, too

There was some commentary that giving only two division winners a bye -- and the third team not getting one -- somehow devalued division championships. I’d argue the exact opposite. Remember, the byes go to the two division winners with the best records … not the teams with the best records. You know how last year, the Giants won the division and the Dodgers got stuck being in the Wild Card Game despite winning 106 games? Well, that would happen again in this format. The No. 1 seed in the NL would still be the Giants, but the No. 2 seed wouldn’t be the Dodgers; It would be the Brewers, who won the NL Central with 95 wins.

Furthermore, getting one of those top two seeds is huge. You get to rest your rotation while the other four teams in your league wear out their pitching staffs with up to three games in three days. The edge you then get in the Division Series is bigger than it was before.

Winning the division -- especially getting a top two seed -- is even more important now than it was before.

3. We’ll miss the drama of a Wild Card elimination game, but it’s for the best

I loved the win-or-go-home nature of a Wild Card Game, no question: Those games were so stressful. (That Cardinals-Dodgers game last year took years off many lives.) But there is something inherently unnatural about a 162-game season coming down to just one little game. What is this, football? The Dodgers won 106 games last year and came this close to having it all go up in smoke on one random night in Chavez Ravine. Two out of three, which mimics the usual three-game series you see in a baseball season, just feels inherently more fair, especially with the higher seed hosting all three games. And it might just end up with a win-or-go-home game anyway.

4. Team Entropy sadly dies

Yes, we will no longer have Game 163, with ties for playoff spots now determined by tiebreaker formulas, NFL-syle.

Shoutout to FanGraphs’ Jay Jaffe, who has been chronicling the possibility of six-team ties for a final Wild Card spot for years, which would have led to a host of play-in games. That would have been hilarious, but it would have been a scheduling nightmare: You would have had teams playing every night for a week, and potentially the World Series having to be moved back. It was a fun parlor game, sure, but losing the tiebreaker games eliminates this possibility forever. The good news: We’re all going to be very brushed up on every possible tiebreaking scenario.

5. Someone even more random might win the World Series out of nowhere

Old-school purists might not like this, but there is an undeniable fun in a team that wasn’t that great, or at least not dominant, in the regular season suddenly getting hot out of nowhere and winning it all. Heck, the Braves did this just last year. Maybe last year’s Reds would have done it. Maybe it’s someone like the Mariners next year. (Oh, yeah, by the way: The Mariners just got a lot more likely to end that playoff drought.) You never know: It could be your team.

6. The Trade Deadline is about to get feisty

Sure, having more teams still in the playoff chase at the end of July makes it less likely for a middling team to sell: To have buyers, you need to have sellers, after all. But there’s always going to be someone selling, and the market for the players those teams have available is going to be insanely active with that many more teams looking to add. The lines between who is a buyer and who is a seller might be a little more blurred now. But if you’re selling, you’ll have many suitors.

7. There’s just a lot more baseball now

Let’s not complicate matters here. Before, there were two Wild Card Games right after the regular season ended, and those games led into a five-game series in the Division Series. Now? Now we’ve got four sets of three-game series before we even get to the Division Series. That’s more baseball … a lot more baseball. Who could argue with that?