While next year’s rule changes on the fielding shifts and the pitch clock will likely be exceptions, baseball fans typically will complain whenever the MLB makes changes. The latest kerfuffle involves the early departures of the Dodgers, Braves and Mets. All three teams won more than 100 games during the regular season, and one of them won last year’s World Series with a team that won 88 games in the regular season. All three were projected as winners in 2022 and lost to statistically inferior teams.
Winning the division is no guarantee
The Padres did some real damage as a wild card. They beat the Mets in a three-game Wild Card, which was not a huge surprise considering how much the Mets faded toward the end. Then the Padres beat the Dodgers. The Phillies beat the Cardinals and then the Braves, who won the NL East and were reigning World Series Champs. Now, two teams that did not win 90 games during the regular season are playing each other for the National League Pennant. While other under-90 teams have played in the series, this is the first time there are two playing each other. A complete coincidence? Maybe, or maybe not. Time will tell.
Playoffs keep expanding
This is all a far cry from a World Series, where the teams with the best record in their league played each other. In 1969, the leagues added the layer of Division winners to the tournament. Then the leagues added the wild card in 1994 to include a team with the best league record while not winning their division. In 2012 they added a second team and had a one-game Wild Card playoff to get in. The league added a third team for 2022, switching the Wild Card games into three-game series.
The new winning paradigm
Of course, more teams in the playoffs mean more baseball, more energized fan bases and more lucrative paydays for players, team owners and associated businesses. No one wants to see teams mathematically eliminated by August. The tradeoff is that winning big gets teams a lesser advantage. Instead, it’s a matter of winning enough to stay competitive and then getting hot and making a push or having enough players who got you there available in the playoffs.
Some decry these changes as making the playoffs watered down, but every year there are some very good teams that don’t win their division, either because of key injuries or a brutal schedule. Being a playoff team is still a high standard, but now it seems like the teams need a bit more luck to win it all.