The 'New' MLB playoff format is a mess
Yesterday, New York Post sportswriter and MLB insider Joel Sherman broke the news that the MLB is considering a new playoff format that could be arriving as early as the 2022 postseason.
The format allows for 7 teams from each league, or a total of 14 teams to qualify for the playoffs. In each league, the team with the best record gets a bye from the 'Wild Card' round. This leaves 6 teams to play in the Wild Card round, which will always be a best-of-three where all games are played at the home field of the team with the best record. That itself doesn't seem too bad, but where things get too wild is how the Wild Card matchups are decided. Two of these teams in the Wild Card round are division winners, and these teams get to choose which team they will play in the wild card round. This leaves the two 'unpicked' teams to face each other. After the Wild Card round, only 4 teams will remain per league, and then postseason baseball would be played as 'normal', with division series and championship series.
Before I get into criticizing this structure, let's look into why the MLB would want to do this. It's no secret that MLB attendance is dwindling, and Manfred (the Commissioner) and his office are trying to combat this so that more fans come to watch baseball and more money is to be made. They feel that this new postseason structure is a way to do that, and it kind of makes sense. This way more teams are motivated to make exciting playoff pushes, and the Wild Card round best-of-three guarantees that there will be more elimination games, which are always more exciting. Ideally, the more exciting games there are, the more people watch, and more money is made for everyone. With the current TV contract of the Wild Card games with ESPN expiring after 2021, and the CBA also expiring then, Manfred sees his opening to make the change then.
What I believe Manfred, his office, and the owners don't understand is that this won't increase viewership, it'll just spread it thinner and decrease casual interest. This new format could mean 6 different playoff games in one weekend. Now I am all about watching more postseason baseball, but what casual fan is going to watch 24 hours of baseball in one weekend and suddenly find the sport interesting? The current format with the two elimination Wild Card games is a bit flawed but designed to get that person watching ESPN that Wild Card night to maybe watch some more playoff games, and then really get invested in the sport.
The 2019 NLWC game was a perfect example of this, the Nationals came back to win the game with their young stud, Juan Soto, as the center of attention. That was an electric game with constant feelings of a possible comeback and very memorable moments, what good does messing with it do? Imagine a kid watching that game, getting excited, and then watching that same team win their first-ever World Series. That is how interest is invested in something new, and that is what baseball is about.
Now to some degree, I do understand the 'unfairness' of a one-game elimination with the wild card, but this sport isn't like others. We have 30 teams and 10 make the playoffs, the 162 regular-season games are meant to prove you are one of those 10 teams, and they put you in a spot to compete with your division rivals. In my opinion, teams are lucky to have a chance at the playoffs via the Wild Card.
And if there's one thing I think most of us can agree on, it's that baseball shouldn't be treated like a reality TV show by having teams pick who they play in a melodramatic fashion. That might be a highly viewed event, which is something that Manfred would want, but it would be out of a need to be updated, not a want to actually watch in anticipation. This doesn't create a sense of excitement that draws new players.