As the MLB playoffs expand, regular season success matters less

NEW YORK (AP) — Major League Baseball is looking at an expanded playoff the more the merrier. Not for the Los Angeles Dodgers, Atlanta Braves, New York Mets and St. Louis Cardinals.

The National League’s four winningest teams failed to make the League Championship Series, six months of success undone in just a few days.

Philadelphia is vying to become the first third-seeded team to reach the World Series after clinching the 12th and final playoff spot on Oct. 3, three weeks after the Dodgers clinched the first.

Years of expansion have turned the Fall Classic into a month-long tournament and a 162-game season into a postseason prologue.

“A hot team is really hard to beat in general,” Houston pitcher Justin Verlander said. “And then you take the best teams in the regular season, play them for five days, which we’re not used to, and then have a hot team keep playing … I think you see how easily you can lose that series.”

Philadelphia, with the sixth-best record in the National League, opened the NLCS with a win at No. 5 San Diego.

Houston, the American League’s winningest team, opens the ALCS on Wednesday night against the New York Yankees, who had the No. 2 record.

All remaining teams are among the top nine payrolls: third Yankees ($254 million), fourth Phillies ($237 million), fifth Padres ($221 million) and ninth Astros ($186 million).

From 1903-68, the teams with the best record in each league advanced directly to the World Series.

Then the playoffs were added, and only 15 teams with the best record in their league won the World Series from 1969-93, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. After a second round of playoffs was introduced, only six of the top-rated clubs in the league took the title from 1995 to 2011, and five of them have won it all since the wild card games began in 2012.

And this year included an entire wild card round that led to a tie for the top four teams — along with five days off.

“Just adding more teams to the mix makes it harder,” Yankees manager Aaron Boone said. “Especially in baseball probably a little bit more than other sports, any team can win on any given day.”

Four of the six most successful teams in the regular season failed to win this year’s LCS. The Dodgers (111) and Braves (101) both lost in the best-of-five division series. The Mets (101) and Cardinals (93) were eliminated in the best of three wild card rounds.

“You could be the best team and your season comes down to a three-game series. I don’t like that format going into a 162-game season,” pitcher Max Scherzer said last October.

The postseason doubled to four teams in 1969 with the start of the LCS, doubled again to eight in 1995 with the Division Series, expanded to 10 in 2012 with the wild card games and to 12 this year.

Only two teams with winning records failed to make the playoffs, Milwaukee and Baltimore — and they would have if the players’ association had agreed to commissioner Rob Manfred’s 14-team plan.

Among the players’ suggestions was expanding the Division Series to best-of-7 with reseeding after each round. They also said they would consider MLB’s proposal for a 14-team postseason if it included giving the top seed a “ghost victory” — starting with a 1-0 series lead.

“It doesn’t make sense to go to 14 teams at all,” said Yankees shortstop Zack Britton, a member of the union’s executive subcommittee. “More average teams are going to come in, and then you’re just diluting the postseason. It doesn’t pay to realize that the reason is TV money.”

Still, MLB’s 40% of teams making the playoffs is a smaller fraction than the NFL (14 of 32), NBA (16 of 30) and NHL (16 of 32).

Since the wild card era began in 1995, only four World Series have been between the top teams in each league’s regular season: 1995, 1999, 2013 and 2020.

Twelve wild cards have reached the World Series, and seven have won the title: Florida (1997 and 2003), Anaheim (2002), Boston (2004), St. Louis (2011), San Francisco (2014) and Washington (2019).

“I don’t know if the league sees what’s going on and maybe wants to make changes,” Verlander said. “I don’t know what those settings would look like. But expanding the playoffs brings in a lot of revenue, so I don’t think it’s going to go backwards.”


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