Presenting a Future Postseason Plan

ALSO: BIG LEAGUES COPE WITH DOG DAYS OF AUGUST

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Pregame Pepper

Did You Know?

Atlanta pitcher Max Fried came off the bench and smacked a ground-rule double in the sixth inning of last Friday's 8-4 win over the Nationals. Fried is 3-for-5 as a pinch-hitter in his career and now stands with Jim Tobin (1944) and Max Macon (1944) as one of three Braves pitchers to record multiple pinch-hits in a season. Fried has accounted for three of the four pinch-hits recorded by Braves pitchers this century (Jo-Jo Reyes had the other in 2007) . . .

Former National League MVP Christian Yelich of the Milwaukee Brewers took up the guitar to help pass the time during his confinement to the COVID-19 injury list . . .

No doubt spurred by long-missing home cooking, the Blue Jays got off to a red-hot start upon their return to Rogers Centre in Toronto . . .

Max Scherzer fanned 10 and defeated the Houston Astros in his Dodgers debut . . .

Bryce Harper had a slash line of .306 / .417 / .500 through his first 367 plate appearances, threatening to join Chase Utley (2007) and Ryan Howard (2006) as the most recent Phillies to produce such stats . . .

Still trying to figure out why Gary Thorne, a long-ago Mets announcer most recently with Baltimore, was back in the club’s TV booth last weekend as an apparent sub for Gary Cohen.

Leading Off

The Perfect Postseason For 2022 And Beyond

By Payton Ellison

According to The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal, Rob Manfred and Major League Baseball are looking to expand the postseason to 14 teams in the next collective bargaining agreement.

Of course, this is nothing new. The first we heard about this was in early 2020, when there were talks about expanding the postseason with some quirks. Then, during the infamous negotiations between the owners and players’ union for a 2020 season proposal, the 16-team postseason was in discussion, then hours before Opening Day, the two sides had agreed to implement the big dance with 53.3 percent of the league. Nowadays, the expanded postseason is being used as a bargaining chip in negotiations for the upcoming Collective Bargaining Agreement, which is a separate topic for another day.

In a sport that is already prone to many upsets or close calls for upsets (the Mariners won 116 games in 2001 and just have an ALCS appearance to show for it), the possibilities for wild moments increase by that much with extra teams. That also means, with additional teams, there becomes a responsibility to make sure that winning the division or having the best record in baseball has its advantages. The 16-team postseason fails to do that, along with the increased chance that a sub-.500 team makes the dance. Any format that requires a bye does that.

However, with the way baseball is currently structured, there are certainly valid reasons for why the postseason shouldn’t be expanded. It may devalue a 162-game regular season by rewarding mediocrity, and in that same argument, give 29 of 30 MLB owners extra reasons to not want to cross that luxury tax number (albeit it may push the middle team — the Cleveland Guardians — to spend more). More teams in the postseason creates more revenue you say? That’s probably why it’s being pushed for so hard by owners, despite fan opposition. Unfortunately, the same reasons against the expanded postseason are the same reasons, like it or not, why they will inevitably be around.

But there is still time to propose a system that enhance those positives while limiting the negatives. With that, it’s time to create the best MLB postseason for the future.

Current Proposed Structure

As of now, the discussions are a 14-team postseason, where the best team gets a bye into the League Division Series and the remaining six teams play in a best-of-three wild card round. While this is okay, this only benefits the best team in each league (and a potential weak third division winner). Even with three-game series, there is too much of an opportunity for all of the top seeds to be wiped out in the Wild Card. The last thing baseball needs is the increased chance for the best team in the league to get to face two of the three worst teams in their league on their way to the World Series.

To prevent this, there must be some incentive for at least one of the other division winners. The best way to do that is to add another round…

Play-in Round

In this format, the three division winners and four best wild card teams in each league still make the dance, but just the two best division winners and the best remaining team, regardless of division win, get a bye to the League Division Series. The reason for this is to disincentivize a team that wins a weak division, like (presumably) the 2021 National League East. While this hypothetical division winner would get one of the two top seeds in the play-in round, they would likely not get that much of an advantage further into the postseason.

The remaining four teams would play in three different one-game playoffs. Like the successful NBA Play-In Tournament, the four and five seed would have two chances to get to the wild card round, while the six and seven seed would face off for further postseason hopes. The winner of 4 vs. 5 would move on to the Wild Card Round, while the loser would face the winner of 6 vs. 7 for the final spot. The winner of that game would move on to the wild card round.

As insinuated, the two remaining teams’ jobs are not done…

Wild-Card Round

The two remaining teams from the play-in round would face in the Wild Card round. This would be a best-of-three two game series where the better seed would start with a 1-0 lead. If they win just one of the games, they will move on to the League Division Series, otherwise, the worse team will have to win BOTH games to move on.

Between the two rounds, there would only be a day off between the final day of the regular season and the first play-in games, with a day off after the final wild card game. This would be a four-to-five-day process, or five-to-six if the two leagues have a staggered schedule.

Tiebreaker Games/Expansion Amendments

Tiebreaker games would only be used the day after the end of the regular season for division ties or a tie for play-in spots. In the case of a tie for the third seed between a division winner and the best wild card team, the division winner would win the bye. MLB’s tiebreaker rules would still apply for home field advantage of the tiebreaker games and any other ties (e.g. a tie for the 5th and 6th seed).

In the case of a 32-team expansion that requires a fourth division in each league, a tie for the third seed between two division winners would require a tiebreaker game.

Division Series

Before the division series starts, all the remaining teams will re-seed one more time by regular season record. This means that there could be a scenario where a wild card team has the second seed if TWO division winners reside in a bad division (think about the 2015 postseason, where the three best teams by record were all in the NL Central).

After the re-seeding, the remaining eight-team postseason would proceed as normal, with the two remaining teams in each league playing in the Fall Classic for…well, a piece of metal.

Example

The following graphic shows the process of the first two rounds of this postseason format with each team that would be eligible as of Monday, August 9. Teams that advance according to this are randomized.

Conclusion

This postseason format has a lot of moving parts that may not be desirable. That’s understood. However, I firmly believe that the best expanded postseason gives the best teams in each league an advantage while giving some advantage for the division winners and creating a tougher road for wild card teams. This format that I have proposed will do just that, and in the process, will continue to promote building the best team possible for success, create extra fan energy, and yes, creating the intended extra revenue.

But if that doesn’t work, there’s always this wild format that I came up with at 2am a year ago!

Payton Ellison is the managing editor for Diamond Digest and the Sports Director at his college radio station, WFNP The Edge. You can find him on Twitter@realpmelli14.

Cleaning Up

Taking a Bite Out Of ‘Dog Days of August’

By Dan Schlossberg

As with any baseball terminology, “the Dog Days of August” symbolizes heat, humidity, and struggle – but with celestial origins.

Sirius, the Dog Star, is part of the constellation Canis Major (translation: big dog), and is mentioned in Greek mythology dating back to 700 B.C. At that time, it was believed to be the brightest star in the Northern Hemisphere.

In a month named for Caesar Augustus, adopted son of Julius Caesar, the dates of July 24-August 24 were supposedly fraught with danger: seas would boil, wine would sour, dogs would go mad, and disease would run rampant.

That is surely the case with Major League Baseball in the middle of August 2021. Players are sidelined with COVID-19, wild weather is cancelling play at an alarming rate, the champagne reserved for the title-clinching party in Flushing has been flushed, and top talents from Trevor Bauer to Marcell Ozuna have exhibited behavior bordering on madness.

Several contenders are wilting in the heat like dogs in a hot car.

The Boston Red Sox, for example, have frittered away a two-and-a-half game AL East lead, dropped from a first-place perch, and now rest five games behind the Tampa Bay Rays, a team they can’t beat.

In the Eastern Division of the opposite league, the New York Mets have blown a five-game lead and lost a long grip on the top rung in their division. Losing seven of their first eight in August plunged the Mets from first to third in the five-team division and prompted some media members to dub them the latest incarnation of The Hitless Wonders.

Thanks to pathetic performances from key RBI men Michael Conforto and Pete Alonso, the team scored 59 runs over one 20-game stretch – and fewer times than any team other than the moribund Pittsburgh Pirates. They’ve also suffered without the services of Jacob deGrom, their best pitcher, and Francisco Lindor, their best all-around player.

The Washington Nationals, world champions in 2019, and the Chicago Cubs, who won the World Series three years earlier for the first time in 108 years, marked the Dog Days by unleashing all their best players. The Cubs dumped Kris Bryant, Javy Baez, Anthony Rizzo, and Craig Kimbrel, while the Nats severed ties with Max Scherzer, Trea Turner, Kyle Schwarber, Yan Gomes, and Jon Lester.

Loyal fans of both clubs felt they were suddenly serving dog food in the concessions stands.

On the other hand, a half-dozen teams suddenly ignited, getting as hot as the sultry summer weather.

The Philadelphia Phillies won eight straight before the Dodgers came to town. Tampa Bay’s trade for 41-year-old Nelson Cruz July 22 turned into the Fountain of Youth, helping the team go 22-8 as the calendar inched toward the middle of August.

Also in the American League, the ChicagoWhite Sox got instant dividends from the returns of injured outfielders Eloy Jimenez and Louis Robert, not to mention the unexpected acquisition of Kimbrel from the crosstown Cubs, and the Oakland Athletics rode the hot bat of trade arrival

Starling Marte to a 9-2 mark, whittling their AL West deficit from six games to two.

The Cincinnati Reds also rode a red-hot hitter – Joey Votto – into contending status. With a 10-4 spurt, David Bell’s boys narrowed the gap in the wild-card race to four-and-a-half games. But the San Francisco Giants have been even better, keeping their winning percentage best in the big leagues.

Apparently, it’s not the size of the dog in the fight. It’s the size of the fight in the dog.

Here’s The Pitch weekend editor Dan Schlossberg of Fair Lawn, NJ is foster dad to a 14-pound, 11-year-old, mixed-breed terrier named Chelsea. Between walks and feedings, he writes baseball for forbes.com, Latino Sports, USA TODAY Sports Weekly, Ball Nine, and USA TODAY Sports Weekly. E.mail him at ballauthor@gmail.com.

Timeless Trivia

Joey Gallo’s first Yankee homer went a grand total of 331 feet . . .

Mr. Consistency: on consecutive days, new Mets infielder Javy Baez had a game-winning homer and five-strikeout game . . .

Toronto’s George Springer has hit 42 leadoff home runs . . .

Unlikely hero: Willy Adames, the shortstop acquired from Tampa Bay earlier this season, leads the Brewers in slugging percentage . . .

New Braves outfielders Adam Duvall and Jorge Soler homered in the same game in St. Louis last week . . .

Pending free agent Michael Conforto, whose batting average has hovered around the Mendoza Line all season, has been locked in a slump since a two-homer game in Cincinnati June 19. But he won a game for the Mets by throwing out an Atlanta runner at home in the ninth inning of a one-run game.


Know Your Editors

HERE’S THE PITCH is published daily except Sundays and holidays. Brian Harl [bchrom831@gmail.com] handles Monday and Tuesday editions, Elizabeth Muratore [nymfan97@gmail.com] does Wednesday and Thursday, and Dan Schlossberg [ballauthor@gmail.com] edits the weekend editions on Friday and Saturday. Readers are encouraged to contribute comments, articles, and letters to the editor. HTP reserves the right to edit for brevity, clarity, and good taste.

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