In the first year of the newly-expanded MLB playoffs, the Wild Card Rounds and American and National League Division Serieses have been characterized by chaos. Much has been said about the 111-win Los Angeles Dodgers and the 101-win Mets and Atlanta Braves all failing to win playoff series.
The NLCS features an 89-win San Diego Padres team facing an 87-win Philadelphia Phillies. Not exactly the strongest representations of the Senior Circuit. But that is not reason to panic or declare the current playoff system a bust, and all the proof you need is to look over to the American League.
In the AL, the 106-win Houston Astros are already in the LCS, awaiting either the 99-win New York Yankees or the 92-win Cleveland Guardians. Either way, the ALCS will feature two division winners squaring off, just like the baseball gods intended.
There is something to be said for a team having a multi-day layoff between the end of the season and the start of their postseason, but the effects of that may be overstated. Not only has it not really been a factor on the AL side, but it isn’t like it is unprecedented.
In the pre-divisional days if two teams tied in the standings, they would play a playoff to decide who went to the World Series. Those were fairly rare, with four three-game playoff series being held in the NL’s history (1946, 1951, 1959 and 1962). Only the St. Louis Cardinals in 1946 and the Los Angeles Dodgers in 1959 went on to win the World Series. The narrative of the layoff hurting or helping is often retroactively applied to explain what we saw, rather than anything that is predictive.
What this year’s MLB playoffs has not lacked is excitement and feel-good stories. Discarding the disappointment of the Mets loss to the Padres, the playoffs have been a joy to watch in a way that wouldn’t have been possible otherwise. Seattle’s crazy comeback in Game 2 in Toronto to win their Wild Card Round, the pitcher’s duels in the Cleveland-Tampa Bay series, and the fun Division Series matchups that would have been different without an expanded playoff field.
Heck, the Phillies have a chance to go to the World Series and wouldn’t have even made the playoffs in 2021 (a positive in that it eliminated the Braves).
It is understandable that there is randomness in short series, whether one is talking about three- or five-game sets. Sometimes the far superior team is going to get beat by a lesser team, but that is part of the fun of the playoffs as a sports fan. It’s the worst when it happens to your team, but watching an underdog make a run is what is compelling about this time of year. If it was always the best team, that would be boring.
The expanded playoff has given more teams chances to compete, more fanbases hope for contention, and introduced a little more chaos into the pennant chase. Even so, the AL is going to have two division winners in its LCS while the NL watched three 100-win teams exit without winning a series. That’s how this wonderfully weird sport we love is sometimes.
Just because our team went down early among other elite teams doesn’t mean it’s time to go back to the drawing board for the postseason. However, if it becomes a trend a few years down the line, maybe it’s worth discussing then.