The MLB’s New Playoff Format Should Significantly Affect How the Playoffs Unfold
The MLB Playoffs are set to begin this weekend. This season will be the first year of a new playoff format for the league, where six teams reach the postseason and the top two teams in each league receive a bye and won’t have to play in the Wild Card Round.
Wild Card teams have had success in recent years of the MLB playoffs since the system was originally introduced in 1994. However, it isn’t clear if that success will continue with the introduction of the new playoff system. Instead of the one-game Wild Card playoff format introduced in 2012, teams will now have to play as many as three games to reach the NL or AL Division Series.
How This Could Affect the Postseason
It isn’t clear how much of an impact the introduction of the best-of-three series in the Wild Card Round will make, but it could dramatically change how the postseason unfolds. The top two seeds in each league, which automatically advance to the Division Series, could be able to use their best starting pitcher in the opening game of the NLDS or ALDS, while the winner of the Wild Card Series could be utilizing their fourth-best pitcher.
The New York Mets are one good example of how the new rules have changed the sport. The Mets, who finished second in the NL East after being swept by the Atlanta Braves last weekend, now need to win two games against the San Diego Padres to reach the NLDS. As a result, Max Scherzer, who is scheduled to pitch in New York’s opening game of the playoffs on Friday, would be unavailable for the start of a potential second-round series.
That has led the organization to reconsider how to utilize its pitchers. Mets manager Buck Showalter has reportedly considered not starting Jacob deGrom in any of the team’s games in the Wild Card Series. If Chris Bassitt and Taijuan Walker pitch in game two or a potential game three of the wild card series this weekend, it is unlikely either of them could pitch before game three of the NLDS next week; if the Mets were to defeat the Padres.
Most of the other teams who reached the Wild Card Round are going through a similar decision-making process as a result of the new postseason format. Multiple managers are trying to decide the best way to organize their pitching staff, and how it would impact their roster in the next round of the postseason.
The addition of more games to the MLB Wild Card Round will provide an extra advantage to teams that immediately qualified for the division series. Those impacts could affect the favorites to win this year’s World Series.
How the New Format Could Help Determine Who Wins the World Series
In prior seasons, the team with the best record in each league had the advantage of potentially not having to face their opponents’ best pitcher in the AL or NL Division Series. Now, the top four teams in each league will have an even bigger advantage.
For example, if the New York Mets utilized Scherzer and Bassitt in games one and two against the Padres, and then Showalter chose to start deGrom in the final game of the series, it would dramatically affect New York’s pitching staff in the next round. The Los Angeles Dodgers, who will play the winner of the Padres vs Mets series, would have a significant pitching advantage.
If the Dodgers swept the Mets, they would potentially only have to play one game where deGrom, Scherzer, or Bassitt pitched, instead of having to play against all three. Even if the MLB series continued to a fourth or fifth game, the Dodgers likely wouldn’t have to face any of those three pitchers until game three of the MLB series at the earliest, giving Los Angeles an opportunity to win both of their games at home to begin the MLB series.
The potential impact of the extra three games played in the MLB Wild Card Round is significant and could change how the MLB playoffs unfold this year. In years past, the format made it much easier for MLB Wild Card teams to have success in later rounds of the playoffs. However, the new playoff format should lessen those chances, and boosts the odds of the Yankees, Braves, Astros, or Dodgers reaching the MLB ALCS or NLCS and eventually the World Series.
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