New playoff format MLB second half outlook

Although Blue Jays starter Alek Manoah has tended to peek at the standings from time to time this season, the exercise has left him empty.

“I once looked, and I think we were winning the [American League] Wild Card by about five games,” Manoah said. “And then a week later we weren’t even in the Wild Card spot. I’m like, ‘Why am I watching this?’ »

Yes, it can make your head spin. During the All-Star break, 18 of 30 teams were within 3½ games of a playoff spot. With so many teams in the mathematical mix for the three Wild Card spots in each league, things can turn around in the blink of an eye.

The 2022 season is Major League Baseball‘s first with a 12-team postseason format — a feature negotiated as part of the collective bargaining agreement that extends through 2026. And on the cusp of the second half of the season, we are about to learn a lot more about the impact of this format on the approach of front offices, managers and players.

As a reminder, the new format is as follows:

In each league, the three division winners and the three teams with the next best records advance to October. The top two division winners (by regular season record) in each league will receive first-round byes.

The Division winner with the worst three- and three-team Wild Card record per league will play a three-game Wild Card series to advance to the Division Series. (The winner of the third division will face the Wild Card club with the worst record, while the two best Wild Card clubs will face each other. This opening round will take place in a three-day window, with all matches played at home . park of the superior seed.)

It will be a bracket-style post-season. Teams will not be reseeded after the first round.

It all looks good on paper. But now we find out how it happens in reality. Here are five intriguing questions posed by the new format of this particular campaign, with input from a handful of All-Stars.

1) What impact will this have on the trade deadline?
This is obviously the most pressing question of all. The August 2 trade deadline is less than two weeks away, and it will be fascinating to see how the wealth of teams still alive in the hunt for October affects both inventory and approach.

Under the previous format, there was less incentive for a team like this year’s Giants – way back in the division race (12 1/2 game deficit) but deep in the Wild Card race (half- game behind last place) – to make an impact, a short-term acquisition if the best possible regular season result was a chance to play in a one-game Wild Card. But with the best-of-three Wild Card (and hosting tasks in play), there’s perhaps a stronger case for taking an aggressive approach.

Teams with long playoff droughts – the Mariners and Phillies – also have more incentive to land impact plays, and a young team in transition – like the Orioles – may have to rethink a seller status that seemed obvious. only a few weeks ago.

“You don’t want to see the uncompetitiveness,” Phillies outfielder Kyle Schwarber said. “You want to see the teams come in and push really hard to get to that third place.”

2) How will this influence the central contenders?
While a lot could happen in the second half, a fairly clear division dynamic has developed in both leagues: the winners of the East and West divisions look likely to clinch the top two spots, while the two central winners would be relegated to the whims of the Wild. Series of cards.

This would, in theory, diminish the value of winning Central. If Central’s first and second place teams both progress, the only potential advantage the division winner would have would be home advantage in the first round.* And depending on how the standings go, the team second place could earn that advantage for his series, anyway.

*While home teams have a .548 winning percentage in all playoff games in the Wild Card era, dating back to 1995, they have only gone 19-17 in the brief history of the Wild Card Game.

So while winning the split remains the ultimate goal, if two central teams are both in playoff position in the final days of the season, there could be just as much incentive to rest/reorganize essential throwing pieces. to prepare for the Wild Card series that there would be. to take first place in the division.

That said, if a team from either Central Division gets hot enough to run away with their division and close the overall standings gap on the East and West beasts (this n ‘s not inconceivable, given that their end-of-season schedule is so heavily skewed towards intra-division games against Tigers, Royals, Pirates, Cubs and Reds), the new format would give them reason to aim the No. 2 seed, as opposed to the No. 3.

“Even if you are in a weaker division, there is still something to defend,” said Liam Hendriks, closer to the White Sox. “That was the problem, I think, the White Sox had last year. We were so far down the division, and [the September results] didn’t really affect much. But if we had played to avoid this [first] round, I think that would have been a hell of a motivation to get it all going.

3) Rest or rust for the first division winners?
OK, but what if the Yankees, Astros, Dodgers and Mets/Braves (the top two teams in the NL East are both ahead of the Brewers in NL Central) never let up? What will the end of September/beginning of October look like for them?

Teams that managed to secure an attractive seeding long before the final game of the regular season schedule have long struggled with the question of how much rest for regulars and starters is too much. But with the opening round (and accompanying bye) extended, this question is a bit more complex.

Containing the entire three-game Wild Card series in one location limits travel and prevents Premier League winners from having to sit around longer than necessary. And facing a team that has burned (at least) its two best available starters adds to the advantage that already existed for division winners against Wild Card clubs. But these Premier Division winners will still need to be careful about how they manage rest over time.

“How much free time for batters is too much,” Yankees reliever Clay Holmes said. “I don’t really know the answer to that question.”

4) Will the AL East be eaten?
At the All-Star break, all five teams in the AL East had a record of .500 or better, which is fun. These five teams combined to go 162-106 (.605) against teams outside the division.

Again, though: the latter part of the season is all about intra-division play. So on paper, that would mean a tougher schedule for the Red Sox, Blue Jays, Rays and Orioles than the teams they compete with in the Wild Card race. This is a potential downside over time. But whichever teams come out of the East alive, they will have earned it.

“It’s the AL beast,” Manoah said. “If you manage to get out of the Beast, you’ll be seated pretty well.” It’s kind of like when you grow up with an older brother and you grow up getting your ass kicked. Then you have to face a guy your own age, and it’s easy.

5) Will the math get complicated?
One final point to remember in the final stretch of the season: in order to prevent the division winners from sitting even longer at the end of the regular season, the Game 163 tiebreaker to advance to the playoffs was was dropped in favor of a mathematical tiebreaker. This will allow the first-round series to begin quickly after the end of the regular season.

If two teams were tied for last playoff spot, the team with the better head-to-head record would advance and the other team would be left out. If the head-to-head season streak was tied, the team with the best intra-division record would advance. Should this also be a tie, the team with the best interdivisional record would move on. The next ties would be recorded in the last half of intra-league games, then the last half of intra-league games plus one game.

So while we don’t have any more tiebreaker game mayhem to root for, at least we might still have reason to dig deeper into the regular season results. It could be that a series that has already been played has a bigger impact on the playoff image than we thought at the time.

Ultimately, the new format brought more teams — and therefore more complications — into the playoff mix. It will be fun to see how that pans out. And you better believe that Manoah will study this ranking with all of us.

“I think it’s a little sick,” Manoah said. “I think the extra playoff spot will be great for the fans. It gives us more playoff baseball, and that’s the environment we want to be in. It’s going to be awesome.

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