The Toronto Blue Jays will likely be in a position to benefit as MLB commissioner Rob Manfred admits he wants the expanded playoff format to remain, but how many teams should qualify each year for the postseason?
The Toronto Blue Jays completed their unlikely journey to clinch a postseason berth on Thursday night, when they beat the New York Yankees 4-1. The team wasn’t predicted to be in such a position prior to the 2020 campaign, with this year expected to be another stage of rebuilding and developing a young and talented roster.
In this respect, there is no denying the Toronto Blue Jays benefited significantly from the decision to increase the playoff field to 16 teams. If MLB commissioner Rob Manfred has his way, the expanded format may be here to stay, albeit with some adjustments.
As things stand, the expanded postseason field was agreed for just the 2020 season, due in large part to the impact of COVID-19. As a byproduct of this decision there was added intrigue and excitement around the league, as more teams were in with a realistic chance of qualifying for the playoffs, including the Toronto Blue Jays.
However, it’s one thing to have more teams make the playoffs in a shortened 60-game season. To have 16 qualify during a normal year is another matter altogether, as it would effectively undermine the need and importance of playing 162 regular season games.
Manfred is among those who agrees with this line of thinking. As reported by Sportsnet‘s Shi Davidi, he said:
"“Over the long haul, if we continue with the expanded playoffs, I think it would be fewer teams…The regular season is a really important product for us and believe me, believe me, whatever we do more permanently, we will protect the value of that regular-season product.”"
The question is, how many playoff teams would be a fair compromise between the 16 for this year and the 10 who have qualified between 2012-2019? Certainly it’s a interesting challenge, especially as the league still wants to attach value to winning your division.
If, for example, MLB decided to expand to 12 postseason teams, this would mean six from each league. In this case, one scenario would be to have the two division winners with the best records in each league effectively have a bye, while the third winner has to take part in the wild card round.
If this happened, we should have the wild card round follow this year’s format of a best-of-three series rather than the one-off game from previous seasons. It only seems fair to give the third division winner in each league a chance rather than face the crapshoot of a one-off game, especially if you still want winning your division to count for something.
The other option is to have 14 teams make the playoffs, meaning seven from each league. This would theoretically allow for the third division winner in each league to also sit out the opening round.
This would then leave four wild card teams to compete for the final division series berth in each league. MLB then has at least a couple of ways they could approach this.
The most simple would be to have a mini wild card knockout tournament, including semi finals and a final. Another possibility is to have each of the four teams play each other once in league-type format, with the top team qualifying for the next round.
When choosing between 12 and 14 teams qualifying, the latter option certainly seems to be the more exciting. It also helps sustain the aforementioned value attached to winning your division.
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However, we also appreciate baseball purists will likely consider 14 teams — and indeed 12 — too many. As recently as 1993 only four teams qualified for the postseason, although even long-time fans would surely acknowledge the flaws with this.
(Ironically, one of the best examples of this came during the last season the four-team format was in place. In 1993, the San Francisco Giants had the second-best record in the Majors, but missed out on the postseason because they played in the same division as the Atlanta Braves.)
Ultimately, it makes a lot of sense for MLB to keep an expanded playoff format, although we also agree it should be less than 16 teams. It just doesn’t seem right having more than half the teams qualify in any professional sports league.
Regardless, no matter how teams Manfred and the league settle on, it can only be a positive for MLB. And if it comes to pass, it only increases the Toronto Blue Jays’ chances of being a consistent contender for the foreseeable future.
Do you agree with Manfred’s preference for expanded playoffs to remain? If so, how many teams do you believe should qualify for the postseason each year? Let us know in the comments section below.