The St. Louis Cardinals will have the benefit of expanded playoffs in 2020. With just a 60-game season, the expanded playoffs could save the team.
In a year that is already weird, let’s just keep making things weirder. The St. Louis Cardinals could very well capitalize on that weirdness though.
On Thursday, before the Washington Nationals and the New York Yankees threw the first pitch of the 2020 season, the league and the players agreed on expanding the playoffs for the 2020 season.
Expanding the playoffs was something that was part of many of the proposals from the MLBPA and MLB for the 2020 season. However, since the season was ultimately implemented by commissioner Rob Manfred, expanded playoffs weren’t part of the plan.
When the season was implemented, it was suggested by MLB insiders that this was coming, and now that it’s arrived, the St. Louis Cardinals should be thankful.
What the expanded playoffs will look like
The expanded playoffs will increase the total teams that make it from 10 to 16, adding three more teams per league. Obviously, the division winners will make the playoffs, but so will the second-place teams in each division. After the first and second place teams, the rest of the teams will compete for the two final spots in the playoffs.
The division winners will be the top three seeds, then the fourth to the sixth seeds will be the second-place teams.
Based on these terms, the NL Playoff seeds, from 1-8, would’ve looked like this in 2019: Dodgers, Braves, Cardinals, Nationals, Brewers, Diamondbacks, Mets, and then the Cubs. That’s not the end of the fun though.
Now, this is something that I am going to be looking forward to. I know some people are opposed to it, but this adds a whole other level of strategy and complexity to the playoffs. It’s going to be so much fun and leave so much up in the air for second-guessing.
The first two rounds of the playoffs are going to be full five-game series, followed by the seven-game Championship Series and World Series.
For now, expanded playoffs are only for 2020, which makes sense. With just 60 games, there is going to be so much chaos that expanding makes sense. 2021 is a different conversation to have.
Why could this save the Cardinals?
If the Cardinals win at exactly the same clip that they did in 2019, they will finish with between 33 and 34 wins. That may be enough to win the division, but it also may not be enough to set themselves apart.
Most projections we have seen so far have the Cardinals right around that 31-win mark.
In this MLB projection, the Cardinals would miss the NL playoffs by a tie-breaker. What the tiebreakers will be is not yet set, but the Reds, the Cardinals, and the Diamondbacks would all be competing for the last spot in the playoffs. Even though the Mets are projected 33-27, as the third-place team in the East, they would be behind the 31-29 Padres who finish second in the West.
Despite their usual pessimism, PECOTA’s projection actually has the Cardinals making the playoffs. By their projection, the Cardinals and the Braves would be the 7th and 8th seeds in the NL. I don’t see the Cardinals finishing with the same record as the slugging Bravos, but without the expanded playoffs, the Cardinals would’ve been out of the race by a wide margin.
From FanGraphs, the Cardinals currently sit at a 58.7% chance of making the playoffs. FanGraphs also has the team narrowly missing the playoffs, but they are well within striking distance in every projection.
While an expanded playoff may be watered down, once you’re in, any team can win.
The last two times the St. Louis Cardinals won the World Series, they did it by just making it into the playoffs and then getting hot. In 2006, they made it with just 83 wins. In 2011, they made it in on the last day of the season. The rest is history.
In 2019, the Washington Nationals were just a Wild Card team. After they got their first win against the Brewers, they then steamrolled their way to their first World Series win.
The expanded playoffs will make for probably the most exciting last week of the season we have ever had. There are sure to be ties in the standings when it’s all said and done, and every game counts so much more. The Cardinals can’t afford to take any days off.
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This Cardinals team has more potential than fans give them credit, but their tendency to be rigid as an organization is not going to work in 2020. With the expanded playoffs though, their chances to make it into postseason play may be saved.