It was the one thing that virtually went unnoticed.
The one thing.
We really didn’t get a chance to talk about it because fans were all caught up in what was wrong with all the rule changes and additions.
What is it? The expanded playoff format.
Much of it was understandable and warranted but one of the things I think the Commissioner got right was the new 16-team playoff format. And I am hoping it sticks around.
It’s because we, as long-time baseball fans, need to start embracing some of these changes. They are changes required to address the declining interest in our game.
Saying we liked the game the way it was is not an open-minded position. Not anymore.
So why should we embrace the 16-team system? Please tell us, Kurt. And you better make it good.
Well, it really starts with the Wild Card teams for me. When the Wild Card was first introduced to the playoffs, it increased excitement for more fans and more cities all over the country.
Suddenly, finding yourself out of the race for a division title no longer meant you were done and headed for a long off-season without a playoff berth.
The Wild Card has been part of the playoffs for a long time now and what has bothered me most about it for years is how teams can be eliminated so quickly.
One and done.
They fight long and hard through the last several weeks of the season trying to grab one of those last playoff spots and in the blink of an eye, and sometimes one day after they celebrated on the field, they can be done.
It is exciting, I will give you that. You get 2, Game 7 type scenarios to kick off the playoffs.
Good entertainment value? Sure. But there can be even more if you somehow could offer a 3-game series to kick off the playoffs.
And that’s exactly what MLB created in 2020. And by seeding the playoffs, it meant you get 8 of those 3-game series which includes all 16 teams. Nicely done during an unprecedented season that needed it the most.
After such a short season, the playoffs needed to be extra crispy, not original recipe. And I think the Colonel (Rob Manfred) gets a star on his forehead for this one.
If you didn’t watch the playoffs and you need a refresher on what the format was like and how they got to 16 teams, well, here it is.
Three divisions in each league (like before).
The first and second place teams in each division qualify for the playoffs.
The 2 teams with the next best records are the wild card teams.
That’s 8 teams in each league forming the 16-team field, with the the Wild Card teams fed into the soup during a seeded, best of 3 opening round series, which includes all playoff teams.
I think it was brilliant.
It is the one thing I have always wanted if the MLB could ever figure out how to do it. And they did.
But keep in mind that there are many fans who hate it because seeding the playoffs means that baseball just falls in line with the other sports. Baseball has been unique all these years in that respect. And our fans have always defended the uniqueness of our game.
And yes, this new playoff format, should it continue, could be stretching the fabric far beyond what playoff baseball was intended to be, all in the interests of expanding the fan base.
Winning the division is no longer much of a necessity when you can finish second and still play in October.
And if you didn’t finish second, well, you still have a shot at a Wild Card.
It’s the one thing I don’t like about the format.
Winning your division after a long 162-game season is a great accomplishment. It’s one of the toughest things in sports.
But if the format lives past 2020 and becomes the norm going forward, winning the 162-game marathon and being crowned a division champion will not mean what it used to, and frankly, that part kind of stinks.
But remember the task here. Sacrifices need to be made, for the betterment of the game. And that doesn’t really mean the game got better, it just means that excitement will reign as more important than achievement.
If we are going to embrace a more exciting playoff season, we must also embrace what a regular season could look like when we get back to 162 games.
A 16-team playoff format will inject substantially more life into the regular season as teams fight for one of those top 2 spots in each division. Maybe the vastly unpopular and unbalanced schedule will get a bit dicier knowing that, in your division alone, you could get 3 chances to make the playoffs.
It has the makings of wildly-exciting seasons going forward, if we are willing to embrace it.
So the question will be: Are you willing or will you fight it because it is different?
There is no right or wrong answer.
It is really about you looking in the mirror and deciding if your future will still include following this game.
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