Main menu


The Dodgers, MLB's new playoff format, didn't bounce off the Braves. Playoff baseball has knocked down top teams for years

featured image

If you want to make a prediction that is sure to be correct, here are two simple rules: DO NOT predict the results of the MLB playoff series, no matter how good or bad the teams are. Expect a certain subset of baseball fans with huge megaphones to be reflexively hostile to change.

Three of baseball’s four 100-win teams bounced from the playoffs in the first two rounds, two by the San Diego Padres, with 89 wins, and one by the Philadelphia Phillies, with 87 wins. Before the two conquering wretches banded together to kick off the National League Championship Series, the threat known as anecdotal evidence forced the baseball world to pause and debate whether their exhilarating victories were Actually Bad.

The confusion appears to be due to the confluence of two events: a new playoff format that came into effect this season, and the Los Angeles Dodgers – winners of 111 regular season games and the strongest of the fallen favorites – losing before they even reach the NLCS. These are, as you will see, unrelated events, but two Twitter users with total 3.8 million followers rubbing them together They can start quite a fire.

In short, many people were suddenly outraged over the idea that the World Series didn’t necessarily crown the best baseball team as champions. And that’s right, the World Series doesn’t crown the best team. MLB’s playoffs—especially since the wild card was introduced in 1995—are not designed to find the best baseball team. They’re designed to ship a collection of the best baseball teams hitting each other for dramatic effect.

It’s not a product of the new playoff format, though. A product of the playoffs in general.

The Los Angeles Dodgers were eliminated in the NLDS by a San Diego Padres team that won 22 fewer games during the regular season. (Wally Skalij/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)

What has the new MLB playoff format actually changed?

For some confusion, what has really changed in the MLB playoffs this season: Two wildcards were admitted in addition to the three division winners in each league, there are now three. Instead of a one-game winner-takes-all battle between two wild cards, there is now a round known as the wild card series. On either side of the bracket, a three-game series pits the weakest division winner against the weakest wildcard team, and then pits the two best wildcard teams against each other.

The top two division winners of each league bid farewell to the Divisional Series, where they will begin playoff races in the old format anyway. They had a longer-than-normal layoff between the end of the regular season and the start of the playoffs, but that’s often considered an advantage, and we don’t have enough information or enough pattern to say otherwise.

Let’s examine what the NL field will look like if we adapt the results of this season to the format that prevails from 2012 to 2021:

  • The Braves and Mets would play a Game 163 to determine who won the division.

  • The loser of this game would face the Padres in a wildcard game for the right to face the Dodgers.

  • The winner of the NL East tiebreak match St. Three, who automatically reach this stage themselves instead of playing a best-of-three wild card series. Louis Cardinals would have advanced to the top five NLDS.

  • The only thing that will definitely change the outcome? The Phillies couldn’t make it to the playoffs at all and therefore wipe out the Cardinals and the Braves.

What do the numbers say about MLB playoff upsets?

The bewilderment of the changes would lead you to believe that they started the chaos that toppled the titans. But that’s not the case. The best teams always lose in October.

Since 1995, when a fourth team was added to each league’s playoff field, 40 teams have won 100 games. Of the 39 whose seasons have come to an end (this season’s Astros kick in immediately, unaffected by their supposed favorite-kill new format), here’s how far they’ve come:

  • Champions: 5

  • Lost in the World Series: 6

  • Losses in Championship Series: 8

  • Lost in Division Series: 19

  • Lost in wild card round: 1 (Sorry, Mets fans)

Almost half fell in ALDS or NLDS! Of these, 17 lost to teams with worse records – the losing starters came in with 8.47 fewer regular season wins, on average.

Also, since there isn’t one team with 100 wins every season, and there have been multiple teams with 100 wins in many seasons that may not all be the best in many seasons, we can broaden the focus to look at the teams with the best records in their league. . (If you want to raise an issue with the playoff setup, you can pour one for the relatively recent phenomenon of 100-win teams having to play with the other 100-win teams this early round. This includes the 2021 Giants-Dodgers series, as well as the Yankees-Twins in 2019 and 2018. Yankees-Red Sox.)

Among the 57 teams that have finished the regular season at the top of the AL or NL stack since 1995 (including teams that have tied for honor), it’s a similar story.

Winner of 89 games, the Padres are not even particularly notable among the oppressed. Braves from last year – remember them? – Eliminated the Dodgers team with 106 victories to the World Series championship after winning 88 games. The 2001 Seattle Mariners with 116 wins famously lost to the Yankees with 95 wins in the ALCS.

Remember, under the 2012-2021 format, the Padres could easily have won a wildcard game against the Mets and entered the same matchup against the Dodgers.

It’s certainly not the extra teams that are causing problems for the favourites. The top teams were in better shape from 2012 to 2021 – when two wildcard teams had to play each other instead of the top wildcard team advancing directly into a Division Series. From 1995 to 2011, only 30.6% of the top regular season teams made it to the World Series. From 2012 to 2021, 45% got there.

The best teams are getting better, if anything. But there is nothing anyone can do about the whims of a short series. The difference between bad MLB teams, OK MLB teams and good MLB teams is small enough that we would need 162 games to figure this out. More than three to five games? Between two good teams? There is basically no margin.

Some on Twitter called for the Division Series to be pushed to the top seven, the final two rounds of the playoffs, but that wouldn’t make that much of a difference. As NFL analyst Michael Lopez noted on TwitterTo match the NBA’s better ratio of teams advancing in a playoff round, baseball needs to play the best (!!!) streak of 75.

In fact, it would be ridiculous to do so. The answer would be a Premier League style system where the regular season is all jerseys and caboodles if the whole purpose of the league is to find and crown the best team. But that’s not the league’s goal and never was.

As an entertainment product – competing with the NFL, NBA and countless other options – MLB needs pressurized tension, and leave that to what we saw in San Diego and Philadelphia this weekend. It’s supposed to sell hope to a few dozen fan bases, offering the more realistic possibility of being better than the Dodgers for four days, while it’s impossible to outrun them for four months. Playoff baseball needs a super-intense version of the game that evokes extreme situations – the animated summer game was pulled into a black hole and recreated as a cage match.

There is legitimate debate about how high the playoff threshold should be set to encourage maximum competitiveness, and whether the sport should do more to recognize regular season excellence before leaving everyone on a basically level playing field. There are a lot of arguments that would never have happened if we could. Admit what three losses really say about a team with 111 wins. But there is no argument about it: without the playoffs, this sport would be less fun and less popular.

Sorrows are only part of tradition at this point.