As MLB Playoffs Expand, Regular-Season Success Matters Less

October 20, 2022

NEW YORK — Major League Baseball views expanded playoffs as the more the merrier. Not for the Los Angeles Dodgers, Atlanta Braves, New York Mets and St. Louis Cardinals.

The National League’s four winningest teams failed to reach the League Championship Series, six months of accomplishment undone in just a few days.

Philadelphia is vying to become the first third-place team to reach the World Series after clinching the 12th and final playoff spot on Oct. 3, three weeks after the Dodgers locked up the first.

Years of expansion have turned the Fall Classic into a month-plus tournament and the 162-game season into a postseason prologue.

“The hot team is really difficult to beat in general,” Houston pitcher Justin Verlander said. “And then so you take the best teams in the regular season, have them take off five days, which we’re not used to, and then have the hot team keep playing … I think you can see how easily you can lose that series.”

Philadelphia, with the National League’s sixth-best record, opened the NLCS with a win at San Diego, which was No. 5.

Houston, the American League’s winningest team, opens the ALCS on Wednesday night against the New York Yankees, who had the No. 2 record.

All remaining teams are among the top nine payrolls: the Yankees third ($254 million), Phillies fourth ($237 million), Padres fifth ($221 million) and Astros ninth ($186 million).

From 1903-68, the teams with the top record in each league advanced directly to the World Series.

Fans cheer behind the dugout during the ninth inning in Game 4 of baseball’s National League Division Series between the Philadelphia Phillies and the Atlanta Braves, Saturday, Oct. 15, 2022, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

Then playoffs were added and only 15 teams with their league’s top record won the World Series from 1969-93, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. After a second round of playoffs was introduced, just six clubs with their league’s top mark took the title from 1995-2011 and five have won it all since wild-card games started in 2012.

And this year included an entire wild-card round that led to byes for the four top teams — along with five off days.

“Just adding more teams to the mix makes it more difficult of a road,” Yankees manager Aaron Boone said. “Especially in baseball probably a little bit more so than other sports, kind of any team can win on a given day.”

Four of the six winningest regular-season teams failed to reach this year’s LCS. The Dodgers (111) and Braves (101) lost in the best-of-five Division Series. The Mets (101) and Cardinals (93) were knocked out in the best-of-three wild-card round.

“You could be the best team and your season comes down to a three-game series. I don’t like that format going forward for a 162-game season,” pitcher Max Scherzer said last October.

The postseason doubled to four teams in 1969 with the start of the LCS, doubled again to eight in 1995 with Division Series, increased to 10 in 2012 with wild-card games and to 12 this year.

Only two teams with winning records failed to make the playoffs, Milwaukee and Baltimore — and they would have if the players’ association had agreed to Commissioner Rob Manfred’s 14-team plan.

Among the players’ proposals was expanding the Division Series to best-of-seven with reseeding after each round. They also said they would consider MLB’s proposal for a 14-team postseason if it included giving the higher seed a “ghost win” — starting with a 1-0 series lead.

“It makes no sense to go to 14 teams at all,” said Yankees reliever Zack Britton, a member of the union’s executive subcommittee. “More teams that are average are going to get in, and then you just dilute the postseason. It’s not worth it understanding the reasoning is TV money.”

Still, MLB’s 40% of teams making the playoffs is a smaller slice than the NFL (14 of 32), NBA (16 of 30) and NHL (16 of 32).

Since the wild-card era started in 1995, only four World Series have been between each league’s top regular-season team: 1995, 1999, 2013 and 2020.

Twelve wild cards have reached the World Series, and seven have won the title: Florida (1997 and 2003), Anaheim (2002), Boston (2004), St. Louis (2011), San Francisco (2014) and Washington (2019).

“I don’t know if the league sees what happens and maybe wants to make tweaks,” Verlander said. “I don’t know what those tweaks would look like. But expanding the playoffs, it brings in a lot of revenue, so I don’t think it’s going to go backwards.”



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