Yesterday’s announcement that Major League Baseball would let 16 of its 30 teams into the postseason is a fitting symbol of the madness of 2020, complete with the fact that one normally does not decide on the playoff system literally on the morning the regular season starts. It is hard to blame the owners for being thrown back on their heels, or for concluding that a 60-game regular season is so short that the doors to the postseason should be widened, for reasons of both money and the credibility of the season.
It is, however, a tacit admission that the regular season is the least meaningful one ever played, even compared with the 1981 and 1892 split seasons or the abruptly war-terminated 1918 season. Baseball is not hockey, college basketball, or horse racing: The proving ground of the long regular season is an essential part of its charm.
The agreement between the owners and the union provides for “eight best-of-three Wild Card Series preceding the Division Series,” which at least preserves the superior value of winning one’s division, but at the cost of devolving the wild cards into a bunch of ridiculous sudden-death crapshoots.
With 16 teams headed to October, the second-place teams in each division will now make the postseason automatically, and the seventh and eighth teams in each league will be chosen from the best records remaining.
In the expanded postseason, the wild-card round will feature best-of-3 series instead of one-game playoffs. The higher seeded team will host all three games, which will cut down on travel.
This will make the postseason substantially longer, with as many as 65 postseason games this year. The first round will be best-of-3, followed by best-of-5 and best-of-7 rounds in the LCS and World Series.
Any baseball is better than no baseball; this may be the best lemonade to be made from these particular lemons. The aftertaste will still be a bit sour, though.
I’m grateful, I guess. Though managing life during this crisis has made us so busy that it’s hard to imagine sitting down and following sports the way we normally do.
The designated hitter has been smuggled into the National League, a move I think is a disaster.
There’s something appropriate about making the Eastern, Central, and Western Divisions play each other across leagues, in a mirror of the travel constraints that are imposed on most of the rest of us.
But if it were me, I’d have taken the opportunity to institute more differences and separation between the two leagues, and a quicker and less-complicated playoff race. Overall, the new rules feel like they all run in the opposite direction of where I’d want the game to go.