Major League Baseball has been holding a postseason for a very long time. After all, the World Series is over 100 years old. Multiple rounds of the playoffs has been a thing since the 1960s. The idea of the MLB postseason has existed for quite a while, albeit in different capacities.
In the past decade or so, the format has changed several times. Initially, the Wild Card was expanded in 2012 to feature a one-game winner take all format for the final postseason spot. More recently, the Wild Card round was expanded to include a best-of-three series with an extra team on each side of the bracket.
A byproduct of the new format is that two teams receive a bye in the first round. With the best of three, there is a week between the end of the regular season and the beginning of the postseason for the top two teams in each league.
This year’s top four teams did not generally perform well in the first round. The Atlanta Braves, the winningest team in the MLB this year, lost in five games to the Philadelphia Phillies. The Los Angeles Dodgers were swept by the Arizona Diamondbacks after LA won over 100 games. The Baltimore Orioles were also swept after winning over 100 regular season games.
Naturally, plenty are calling for a change of the playoff system, feeling that the layoff time is negatively affecting the top teams who are supposed to have an advantage given their success. I have a few issues with this notion.
For one, the American sports playoff model has never been a good indicator of finding the best team in that given season. Sure, plenty of times the best team wins the title. However, creating a system in which an entire season’s worth of results comes down to one game or one series is inherently giving lesser teams an opportunity.
And that is not a bad thing. It gives us the drama. The European model of crowning a champion based on regular season results is clearly the way to properly reward the best, most consistent team throughout the season. The playoff format creates all of the great moments that American sports fans look forward to every year.
The idea that the MLB postseason format has always rewarded the best teams is not true. Since 1969, the team with the best record in the MLB has won the World Series just 13 times. That is right around 1/4 of the titles that have been handed out. 40 times in that stretch, a team who did not have the best record in baseball won the World Series.
Now, can the format do a better job of rewarding top teams? Certainly. The NFL’s model of giving byes to top teams has given a clear advantage, and we have seen plenty of top seeds make it through.
The MLB expanded the playoffs because more games equate to more dollars. It is as simple as that. They did not expand the playoffs to try to give the best teams a better chance to win the World Series. If they were to make another change that eliminated the time off, the more likely option would be to add even more teams and force everyone to play in the Wild Card round. Would that be better? I think certainly not. The grind of a 162-game season is supposed to separate the worthy from the rest. Placing more teams in the postseason would water down the event and definitely lead to more champions that were not top regular season teams.
And lastly, there is simply nowhere near enough sample size to know whether or not the layoff is a real disadvantage. Can we reevaluate the format ten years from now? Absolutely. But two years of disgruntled teams who underperformed in the postseason is not enough to double-back on the entire construct of the system.
Dawson Eiserloh is the co-host of “RP3, D-Loh & Meche” which is broadcast weekdays (11-1) on ESPN 103.7 Lafayette and 104.1 Lake Charles — Southwest Louisiana’s Sports Station.