MLB Expanded Playoffs: Fun For A Year, Foolish Long-Term

It’s all fun and games when it comes to expanding the 2020 MLB playoff field, but doing it for any longer would be a major blow to the sport.

On Opening Day of the pandemic paused, severely shortened 2020 baseball season, MLB and the MLBPA came up with a last second agreement to give millions more fans the right to dream of a championship run. The postseason field for 2020 will be greatly expanded, with an unheard of sixteen teams now making the playoffs.

For one season, this season, it is a welcome distraction. Exciting enough to almost forget the fact that the baseball season could have started a month ago if it weren’t for a series of temper tantrums over money between rich and richer people.  Which is by no means unimportant. MLB and the MLBPA did a lot of damage to their brand the past few months, and while I have no qualms underscoring how unnecessary and self inflicted it was … I also love baseball. I want the sport to succeed and for one season, this could go a long way towards making up for some of that damage.

But it is imperative that MLB and the MLBPA resist the temptation of apparent future riches, and make sure expanded playoffs are just a 2020 phenomena.

Ever since Rob Manfred first uttered the phrase “pace of play”, it has been apparent that the dearest wish of the MLB commissioner is for his league to become the NBA. Fast, flashy, hip, and shiny. I’ll cop right now to being an extreme traditionalist. If I were ten years older, there’s a good chance I’d be against even having a Wild Card team.

Some changes to America’s favorite pasttime probably are needed. “Get off my lawn” type inclinations about extra innings and designated hitters aside though, emulating the playoff model of the NBA (and NHL) would be a dangerously ridiculous idea for the sport.

Consider your thoughts on the regular seasons of MLB and the NBA. Now, if you’re reading this, you likely have a clear preference. However, one of these is widely regarded as too long, and it often isn’t the sport that has a season with twice the number of games. In basketball, the truth is a significant amount of fans don’t even start watching until the playoffs. Heck, in some cases, the players on the elite teams don’t even really start trying until the playoffs. At least that’s the perception. One not helped by players taking rest days, saving their strength for the real season.

In baseball, the journey of the regular season matters far more. Records are chased, prospects are discovered, and being the best is rewarded. Do we as fans really want to tune into an Angels game, only to see a healthy Mike Trout taking the series off for maintenance? Perhaps just as importantly, does MLB really want to create a scenario where regular season games matter less than ever before in a sport with the longest regular season? Seems like a great way to lose revenue.

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The ratings might be high for the first couple of years. They will certainly be high this year. People love novelty. Give it a while though, and it’ll be met with the same yawns a “Lebron shootaround vs. No. 8 team” is every year. Something only slightly more exciting than the six months of games I also merely occasionally flipped to before booting up Netflix.