Expanding the MLB Playoffs

Baseball should expand its playoffs to 16 teams. While baseball is steeped in history and tradition, its playoffs now lag consistently behind the NFL, NBA, NHL, College football playoffs and March Madness in terms of ratings and prestige. It may be America’s pastime, but the sport needs a modern upgrade. Expanding the playoffs to 16 teams goes against the sports long history, but I think any tradition lost will be easily replaced by the growth of interest in baseball with a 16 team playoff.

Having 16 teams would make the baseball playoffs a bigger deal because baseball, unlike the other sports, is a largely regional sport. Outside of the cities playing, the playoffs aren’t heavily watched, unlike the other sports. Cities not in the playoffs don’t watch. Adding six teams to the playoffs creates six more markets watching playoff baseball. That bumps up the ratings, since a city will watch their possible next round opponents. Cities who are eliminated still watch to see how the team that eliminated them does. Also, a 16 team playoff may draw in other sports fans who don’t normally watch baseball, because the first round would be eight games every day for a week. It’d be like the first weekend of March Madness, except for a whole week of first round playoff games. People would get hooked on the baseball playoffs, and keep watching in further rounds.

Another benefit is for the teams themselves. With a 16 team playoff, more good teams get to enjoy the playoffs. With more playoff spots, it also means more teams make the playoffs more often, resulting in shorter playoff droughts. This leads to more excitement in the cities and better regular season attendance. It actually increases the quality of the regular season. Yes, you lose the September wild card race, but everybody is still fighting for the division titles and home field. The end of season races would be no less exciting while the playoffs would be more insane.

The way I’d set up the playoffs is the way the NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs used to be set up. The three division winners get the top three seeds in the first round, and thus home field. In the second round, the seeds are reset based on record, so if a wild card team has a better record than their division winner opponent, they get home field. From the second round and on, it’s the team with the better record getting home field. The first round and second round would both be a best of five series, with the LCS and World Series being a best of seven. Since I’m adding up to give games for those 16 teams, I’d eliminate two games from the regular season, so that at most I’m only adding three games for everyone, or one extra start for three pitchers.

One of the great benefits of having the playoffs set up this way is you’ll end up with more playoff matchups between rivals and inter-division opponents in the first round. Who wouldn’t love to see Boston vs New York in the first round or Seattle vs the LA Angels or Philadelphia vs NY Mets?

I’ve put together what a 16 team playoff would’ve looked like every year going back to 2003. Instead of the Seattle Mariners at 15 years and counting, the longest playoff drought would be six years by San Diego and Colorado. The team with the fewest playoff appearances in the last 13 years would be Baltimore at two. Of the 52 seven and eight seeds, just 17 would be at or below .500, and they’d all likely exit in the first round. Even if they pulled a shocking upset, they’d still have to win another best of five and then a best of seven against two more really good teams just to reach the World Series. And then to win the World Series.. yea, no. It’d be very highly unlikely a 7 or 8 seed would win the World Series. A 16 team playoff means the best teams are actually more likely to reach the World Series.

Starting from 2003, the A.L would have been 1 NY Yankees vs 8 KC Royals. 2 Oakland vs 7 Toronto. 3 Minnesota vs 6 Chicago White Sox and 4 Boston vs 5 Seattle. Minnesota vs Chicago is a division rivalry. Assuming the top four seeds win, the seeds reset according to best record, in which case Boston becomes the 3 seed and Minnesota is the 4. Oakland vs Boston and NY Yankees vs Minnesota, the same actual matchups from 2003. So we still get NY vs Boston in the ALCS. In the N.L it’d be 1 Atlanta vs 8 St. Louis. 2 San Francisco vs 7 LA Dodgers. 3 Chicago Cubs vs 6 Philadelphia and 4 Florida vs 5 Houston. San Fran and LA is a division rivalry. The second round would’ve been the same as it was in real life, with Florida becoming the 3 seed flipping places with the Cubs. Thus, we still would’ve had the great Cubs vs Marlins NLCS with Steve Bartman making the Cubs curse continue.

If you watched the Yankees and Red Sox go seven games in the ALCS in 2003 and 2004, you know rivals meeting in the playoffs is great for the sport. With a 16 team playoff, from 2003 to 2015, there’d be 37 first round matchups between division rivals. The Yankees and Red Sox would meet four times in the first round. The Mariners and LA Angels would meet twice. Some non-rivals would meet two years in a row, thus sparking a new rivalry. Oakland and KC would meet twice in a row in the first round, as would Philadelphia and Washington, who are also division rivals. Other teams meet multiple times over the 13 year span, meaning those cities will develop a history with each other. Boston and Seattle meet twice in the first round. Toronto and Minnesota meet three times. Yankees and Cleveland twice. Atlanta plays St. Louis three times. Cubs and dodgers three times.

By having so many division rivals meeting in the first round, as well as non-rivals meeting multiple times, it enhances the regular season because rivalries will be more intense and teams who meet multiple times in the playoffs will really grow to hate each other. For example, Texas fans can’t stand Toronto after the way they got eliminated last year in five games in the first round. Also, Derek Jeter recently said that Red Sox fans have gone soft on their hatred of the Yankees since winning their three World Series titles. If they had met four times in the first round between 2006 and 2013, believe me, that rivalry would be hard core on fire.

Some years, the intensity of the first round of the baseball playoffs just wouldn’t be fair. In 2006, the AL would’ve had 1 NY Yankees vs 8 Boston, 3 Oakland vs 6 LA Angels and 4 Detroit vs 5 Chicago White Sox, all heated division rivals. The NL would’ve had 1 NY Mets vs 8 Atlanta and 3 St. Louis vs 6 Houston. That’s five division rivals facing off in the first round alone. In 2009 we would’ve had four sets of division rivals meeting in the first round. In the AL, 2 LA Angels vs 7 Seattle and 3 Minnesota vs 6 Detroit while in the NL it would’ve been 2 Philadelphia vs 7 Atlanta and 4 Colorado vs 5 San Francisco. Other years with four matchups of division rivals are 2010 and 2012 while years with three such matchups are 2007, 2008, 2011 and 2015.

So yea, baseball should go to a 16 team playoff. It’d make the playoffs even better while growing the game. More people will watch the playoffs and rivalries will be enhanced. New rivalries will be born. Playoff droughts will be shorter. Attendance at regular season games will be higher. Baseball is a regional sport, so by including more teams in the playoffs, more regions of the country get into and watch the baseball playoffs. That will bring the MLB playoffs up to the prestige of the NFL, NBA, NHL and college football playoffs, as well as March Madness.

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