MLB Playoff Format Under Scrutiny: Is It Time for Changes as Top Seeds Face Challenges?
The Baltimore Orioles trailing the Texas Rangers 2-0 or the Los Angeles Dodgers’ Game 1 loss to the Arizona Diamondbacks on Clayton Kershaw’s watch isn’t solely due to the five-day gap between the regular season’s conclusion and the start of the Division Series. It may not be the sole factor if any of the top seeds end up losing in this round.
Nonetheless, if the Atlanta Braves face a second consecutive elimination, it will inevitably spark discussions about the fairness of the current postseason format, which was introduced last season. Finding solutions won’t be straightforward. Since 1969, the start of the divisional era, there has been no guaranteed path for the teams with the best regular-season records in each league to reach the World Series.
While Major League Baseball attempted to address this with its new system – granting first-round byes to the top two division winners in each league and awarding home games solely to higher-seeded wild-card round teams – the introduction of the best-of-three wild-card series resulted in a five-day hiatus for the bye-earning teams. This extended layoff might, just might, be excessive.
For over four decades during the divisional era, concerns about rust from an extended layoff didn’t exist. From 1969 to ’93, division champions advanced directly to the League Championship Series. Between 1995 and 2011, each league had just one wild card, and the Division Series kicked off promptly.
The predicament began with the inclusion of a second wild card in each league, leading to the creation of the wild-card game and a three-day gap for division champions from 2012 to ’19, and once more in ’21. The current five-day interval is lengthier than what teams typically experience during the All-Star break, making it an unusual occurrence in a sport accustomed to daily action.
Drawing conclusions from just two years of data is hardly sufficient. The teams with byes might still emerge victorious in the majority of the four Division Series. Nevertheless, despite their best efforts to maintain competitive readiness during their respective layoffs – which included simulated games in front of fans for the Braves, Dodgers, and Orioles – their endeavors could prove ineffective.
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