MLB expanded playoffs: How it will work, why it’s happening & who benefits

MLB is reportedly close to an agreement to expand the 2020 playoffs to 16 teams — a dramatic leap from the 10 that have made it in recent seasons.

The potential change, which still awaits ratification by team owners, would not apply beyond this season.

If more than half the league’s teams qualify for postseason play, then the 60-game campaign will more closely resemble the NBA in terms of structure than what baseball has traditionally offered. MLB has already added a universal DH and added an automatic runner on second base to start extra innings for 2020, further shaking up the game.

Here’s a breakdown of how the expanded playoff format would work and what it means:

How many teams will make the 2020 MLB playoffs?

Should the plan be ratified as expected, eight teams from the NL and eight teams from the AL would reach the 2020 playoffs.

How will seeds be decided?

The first three seeds would go to division winners, followed by the three second-place teams. The final two seeds in each league would be granted to the remaining two best teams.

That means four third-place teams would make the playoffs; if the format existed in 2019, it would have sent the Red Sox, Rangers, Mets and Cubs to October.

One other wrinkle: Division winners get to pick their first opponent.

How many games will the first round of the 2020 playoffs last?

Under the proposed rules, the first round would be best of three, meaning the best team in the league could be eliminated because of two fluky down performances.

Why is MLB making this move now?

It’s pretty weird, right? Usually changes as big as postseason expansion are hammered out way before a season rather than Opening Day. Given the complex, improvised nature of the 2020 campaign during the coronavirus pandemic, though, the idea was probably hatched recently and needed to go through union negotiation.

What does this mean for future seasons?

So far at least, there’s no indication of future baseball seasons being altered by this potential rule. It does open the door for MLB to push for more playoff teams down the road, however.

Who benefits from MLB expanding its postseason?

There was a financial incentive for each side to get a deal done, although that was somewhat balanced out by an extended pandemic health risk for players.

Players are reportedly getting a $50 million guarantee, while owners would get more TV and promotional revenue.

As far as on-field benefits, this would greatly advantage mediocre teams who otherwise wouldn’t sniff October and could now sneak their way into a later round with a strong couple of weeks. For top dogs such as the Yankees and Dodgers, meanwhile, this would represent another irritating mine in the path to the World Series.

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