Less than a week away from the 2022 MLB regular season, the postseason kicks off next Friday with a best-of-three Wild Card Series. Baseball has a new 12-team postseason format and it remains to be seen if it will improve the product. At first I was skeptical about Wild Card Game, but quickly fell in love with it. Perhaps the same will happen with the 12-command format.
In any case, five of the six division titles have been won, with only the NL East undecided. Five of the six wildcard spots are also up for grabs, although we know which three wildcard teams will be in the American League, and there are three teams left for two spots in the National League wildcard race. Less than a week before the game what a lot on the line around the league.
For posterity’s sake, here’s what the post-season bracket would look like if the season ended on Thursday, which of course it doesn’t:
- Bye: No. 1 Astros and No. 2 Yankees
- TOILET: No. 6 Mariners in No. 3 Guardians (winner plays No. 2 in ALDS)
- TOILET: #5 Rays vs. #4 Blue Jays (winner plays #1 in ALDS)
- Bye: No. 1 Dodgers and No. 2 Mets
- TOILET: No. 6 Phillies in the No. 3 Cardinals (winner plays No. 2 in the NLDS)
- TOILET: No. 5 Padres to No. 4 Braves (winner plays No. 1 in the NLDS)
. It’s a bit unusual (weekends are scattered throughout each series rather than the usual 2-2-1 LDS and 2-3-2 LCS formats), but it works just as well. How will the new 12-team format affect post-season racing? Several ways, really. Let’s break them down.
1. Seed #6 may be more desirable than seed #5.
Teams will not be reseeded after the Wild Card Series. The winner of the #3 vs. #6 Wild Card series will play the #2 seed in the LDS no matter what, and the #4 vs. #5 wild card series winner will play the #1.1 seed in the LDS no matter what. In the LDS, the team with the best record in the league will face the wildcard team, not the division winner, period.
Sounds great in theory, but in practice it doesn’t always work out so neatly. Some wild-card teams are better than some division winners every season, and the NL East is a great example this year. The runner-up NL East would have a much better record and mileage difference than the winner NL Central. Because of this, seed #6 may be more desirable than seed #5.
Consider the possibilities in the National League, using the current standings:
Seed #5: On the road to face the No. 4 seed (Braves) in the Wild Card Series, and if they win, they will have to face the No. 1 seed (Dodgers) in the NLDS.
Seed #6: On the road to face the No. 3 seed (Cardinals) in the Wild Card Series, and if they win, they will have to face the No. 2 seed (Mets) in the NLDS.
With all due respect to St. Louis, give me a #6 seed instead of a #5 seed. I don’t want to go through the Braves. as well as Dodgers in one postseason. I am fully aware that any team can beat any other team on any night (or any series) in this game and that you will face good teams in October, but gosh, this #5 seed is a tough draw.
This also has a downside. The Dodgers could face a Braves team with 100 NLDS wins while the Mets face the Cardinals or a wildcard team with less than 90 wins. Why should the Dodgers, with the best baseball record and historically great differential, have a harder road to the NLCS than the No. 2 seed? Here’s what happens when you don’t refill.
And now here are the odds of getting a wild in the American League, again with the current state of affairs:
Seed #5: Goes on the road to face the No. 4 seed (Blue Jays) in the Wild Card Series, and if they win, they will have to face the No. 1 seed (Astros) in the ALDS.
Seed #6: Goes on the road to face the No. 3 seed (Guardians) in the Wild Card Series and if they win, they will have to face the No. 2 seed (Yankees in the ALDS).
The AL isn’t as clear-cut as the NL, especially with how Cleveland and the Yankees have played this month, but I can buy the #6 seed, which is more desirable than the AL’s #5 seed. At least you have to think. It’s not obvious that a taller seed is preferable, and that’s a bit of a problem, isn’t it? The post-season format should encourage teams to finish with the best possible results, which is not exactly the case with the No. 5 and No. 6 seeds this year.
I should point out that losing games to ensure you become the #6 seed and not the #5 seed is not going to happen. Wildcard racing is too close to losing strategically, and besides, the players are not designed that way. Every evening they take to the field to win. They don’t care about the best match on paper. The fans can, but the players don’t think so. However, it looks like the #6 seed is the way to go this year. Seed #5 has a harder road ahead.
2. Lack of exciting racing
It’s a fair question: will post-season racing be more exciting with the old 10-team format? I think yes. Here’s what the post-season 10-team bracket will look like with the current state of play:
- Wild Card Game: No. 5 Race to No. 4 Blue Jays
- ALDS: #1 Astros Wild Card Game Winner
- ALDS: Sentinels #3 at Yankee #2
- Wild Card Game: No. 5 Padres to No. 4 Braves
- NLDS: No. 1 Dodgers Wild Card Game Winner
- NLDS: Cardinals No. 3 at Metz No. 2
In AL we would have three teams (Blue Jays, Mariners, Rays) battling for two wildcard spots in the old 10 team format. Instead, we have three teams locked in three wildcard locations and fighting for nothing but the seed. It’s not very exciting, is it?
In the NL, the NL East runner-up is locked in the first wildcard spot and we have three teams (Brewers, Padres, Phillies) vying for the other two wildcard spots. The old postseason format would have had three teams competing. one placeholder. I think we can all agree that it would be much more convincing.
Postseason racing is different every season and next year could be a lot more exciting with wider outdoor areas, but the first year of the 12-team format gave us bad racing outside of the NL East (races that would exist regardless of the postseason format). ), as well as second and third places with NL wildcards. “More teams in a race” does not automatically mean better races.
Also, be aware that MLB will likely push for a 14-team postseason format after 2026, when the current collective bargaining agreement expires. This time, the league wanted to use a 14-team format, but the MLBPA resisted, citing concerns about less competition..
The 14-team format would make the 2022 races even less attractive because the Brewers and Orioles, the top two teams after the postseason ends, are well ahead of the next best teams (the Giants and White Sox, respectively). and there will be no wildcard seat races. The Brewers and Orioles will be in the game, and the only wildcard races will be for seeding.
3. Importance of tiebreaks
MLB and MLBPA have agreed to waive tiebreaks in Game 163 as part of a new collective bargaining agreement, and the fan in me finds that eminently unconvincing. There have been several classic Game 163s (Bucky Beepi Dent’s home run in 1978, the extra-inning chaos that the Twins had against the Tigers in 2009, etc.) and now all ties will be settled mathematically. Boring!
Here are the tiebreaks. Things get a little confusing with three and four teams, although MLB has draft tiebreaker scenarios ready to go.
- Personal record.
- Recording within a department.
- Record against teams in the same league but outside the division.
- Record in the last 81 games against rivals in the league.
- Record in last 81 league games against rivals, plus one until the tie is broken.
To be clear, every tie will be broken mathematically, even a tie where one team makes the playoffs and the other doesn’t. MLB used the same tiebreak formula in 2020, and it cost the Giants a place in the postseason. The Brewers and Giants went 29-31, but the Brewers had the best intra-division record (19-21 to 18-22), so Milwaukee finished 8th and San Francisco went home (both teams didn’t were playing). that year, so there were no face-to-face meetings).
Needless to say, holding the tie-break is much more important now than it was in the past, when all that depended on it was to determine home field advantage. In the event of a draw, you always had a chance to play your season, even if you had to go on the road. This is no longer the case. You better hold on to the tiebreak with this new format. It might decide your season.
In the AL, the tiebreak won’t be as important this year because we know who the six postseason teams will be and three division titles have already been won. Tie-breaks can be used to decide which team is 4th and which is 5th, or which team is 5th and which is 6th, but no more. Tie-breaks are relatively low stakes in a junior race.
But in the NL, the tiebreak can be extremely important. The Braves and Mets are battling for the division title, and if they finish with the same record, a tie-break will decide the division winner. This means that one team gets a series of Wild Cards bye while the other must play a series of Wild Cards up to three wins. That’s a huge difference in World Series odds!