- Columnist, FanGraphs
Because postseason television broadcast revenue is the one thing that Major League Baseball can depend upon even in lean economic times, some variant of this year’s pandemic-driven expanded playoff format is likely to survive beyond 2020. Hopefully, it won’t be the bloated 16-team format we just witnessed — not that fans of the Dodgers are likely to complain — but it seems entirely possible that a four-tiered format that includes a best-of-three Wild Card Series will remain in some form, as long as the owners and players’ union can agree on how to split the riches.
As the past quarter century has shown, the ever-expanding postseason offers a mixed bag when it comes to individual achievements. On the positive side, a larger group of players gets the chance to shine in October; Mike Trout has played in only one postseason series, but he’s still just 29, and already has a leg up on Hall of Fame shortstop Ernie Banks, who didn’t play a single postseason game in his career. What’s more, players on perennial contenders can rack up big postseason career numbers, setting records left and right — even if they’re not always excelling. Case in point: Near the end of his World Series Game 5 start, Clayton Kershaw surpassed Justin Verlander for the career lead in postseason strikeouts (207); he also has the third-highest ERA (4.19) among the 30 pitchers with at least 100 postseason innings.
Beyond the possibility that many postseason records risk becoming mere trivia — nobody needs to care about who has the most division series anything — they risk losing luster amid cross-era comparisons. Even appreciating League Championship Series history is complicated by its change from best-of-five to best-of-seven in 1985. Better to appreciate, say, that Mickey Mantle holds the career record for World Series home runs (10), and Reggie Jackson owns the record for the two-tiered playoffs (18 in the World Series and LCS), and Manny Ramirez the record for the three-tiered format that added the division series (29). The likes of George Springer, Jose Altuve and Carlos Correa can duke it out for the four-tiered record, if Randy Arozarena doesn’t overtake them first.
Whatever shape the postseason takes, October accomplishments often have some bearing on Hall of Fame cases. With that in mind, here’s a look at a half-dozen players whose chances for Cooperstown are already substantial, and improved at least somewhat this fall. I’ve ordered these so that the players who reached the World Series are first, followed by those who fell by the wayside in the LCS and division series.
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