MLB’s expanded Playoff experiment works this year, but not beyond

As the St. Louis Cardinals prepare to take on the San Diego Padres, the excitement of postseason baseball is here. Due to the expanded playoffs, more mediocre talent made the big dance.

Baseball is entering its most exciting month. October baseball. It is what fans wait for all season. After 162 games and a long season of ups and downs, the journey of a baseball season reaches its climax with the playoffs. For teams fortunate enough to earn a playoff berth, that journey is rewarded.

This 2020 season has been one unlike any other. Frankly, it has been a year unlike any other. In the current times, it made sense for baseball to go to expanded playoffs. In a shortened season it would be beneficial to have more teams in the playoffs and a more packed playoff schedule. But it makes sense just for the current situation, right?

Wrong. Major League Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred has said that expanded playoffs are likely to stick around.

Do you think this is good for baseball? I don’t. It rewards mediocrity. The NL Central is sending four teams to the postseason this season, including the Milwaukee Brewers. Yes, the Brewers with a 29-31 record. Is this what MLB wants? A team with a losing record in the playoffs? Again, it makes sense for 2020 and I’m fine with it. But this should not be something that the sport implements during normal times.

The St. Louis Cardinals weren’t a great team this season. In fact, the Cardinals were 28th in runs out of 30 teams. Yet they won 30 games, had a winning record, and earned a playoff spot. The Brewers had a losing record and likewise had a struggling offense.

The NL Central was a close division with the Cardinals, Reds, and Brewers separated by just two games in the standings. Basically, with the exception of the division-winning Chicago Cubs and the last-place Pittsburgh Pirates, the other three teams could have been shuffled around with just a few different rolls of the dice.

But teams with losing records have no place in the postseason. The American League is in the same boat, with the Houston Astros also making the postseason with a losing record. I ask again, is this what MLB wants? What does this do for the competitive spirit of the game?

The fact that expanded playoffs will likely be a part of the game moving forward is frustrating to me. That essentially waters down the regular season, and in a full season of 162 games, that could make the sport seem more like a prolonged exhibition until the playoffs start.

Of course, there will still be pennant races. On the last day of the regular season there were still playoff spots up for grabs. In that regard, MLB’s expanded playoffs experiment has succeeded. More teams are in contention for longer and more fans can stay engaged with their teams deep into the season hoping to see playoff baseball.

However, do fans of the sport want to watch sub .500 teams in October? If this becomes the new strategy for MLB, I think it will be a checkered experiment. There are some pros to it, but in the end, I think having losing teams in the playoffs is a bit of a dark cloud over the competitiveness of the sport and that expanded playoffs make the regular season increasingly less important than it would be under the traditional playoff bracket.

Next: Revisiting the 2006 St. Louis Cardinals NLDS

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I understand and applaud the sport for being ambitious and trying something new. MLB’s expanded playoffs experiment has served its purpose and was a necessary adjustment for this shortened 2020 season. If it becomes a fixture for 2021and beyond, the experiment becomes a failure.