So what exactly is going on with these MLB playoffs?

September 25, 2020

So much has happened in the world within this last year, making it very easy to not pay attention to sports. However, within a short time after everything was shut down, people were trying to figure out how to bring sports back. The various sports leagues across the country attempted to figure out ways to bring sports back in any way possible. Basketball returned with a bubble in Orlando, FL. The players, coaches and staff are all required to remain in the bubble for the duration of the rest of the season. NBA playoffs are still going on and it is safe to say that the bubble experiment worked there as CBS sports has consistently reported zero cases within the bubble. 

Baseball returned without a bubble and quickly many issues began to arise. Teams were reporting mass cases of the coronavirus, and this almost stopped baseball, but a bunch of scheduling changes allowed the sport to continue. However, this quickly revealed the problem with not having a bubble, as players would ignore the rules and continue to do outside things. 

According to the Cleveland Insider, a month ago the Cleveland Indians caught pitchers Mike Clevinger and Zach Plesac breaking protocol and going out to a club at night. This brought up many issues within the team as Clevinger and Plesac clearly broke the protocol, yet they were elite pitchers on the team. This is one example of a player breaking protocol and putting their entire team at risk. The season continued but many wondered how long it would actually last without a bubble. A month later, commissioner Rob Manfred announced the bubble for the MLB playoffs. 

On Sept. 15, ESPN reported that MLB commissioner Rob Manfred would make it so that all playoff games would be played in the new Texas Rangers stadium in Arlington, TX. There is set to be a bubble within that area, but the reason behind moving all teams to this area was to eliminate travel because baseball currently has an immense amount of traveling between states. Manfred also announced that they were eliminating the off days during the division and championship series. This means a lot for how the playoffs are going to be set during this season. 

Last season, the Washington Nationals won the world series with a style that may not work in this year’s postseason. The Nationals frequently used their starting pitchers to start games and come in during other games in relief. This was because the Nationals bullpen was the weakest part of their team and their starting rotation was their strongest part. So, the Nationals relied heavily on a few pitchers to carry them through the postseason. This is no longer an option for most teams because pitchers aren’t going to have any off days for travel. 

Instead of being able to start your best pitcher easily two times during a full five-game series, it is possible that your best pitcher may only get to pitch in one game during the series. This postseason is going to rely heavily on having a ton of pitching depth because of the lack of rest that the pitchers are going to have. 

Now that it has been determined what is going on within the playoffs, the crazy part of the new playoffs is actually how many teams are going to the playoffs. According to MLB.com, the MLB is expanding the playoffs for this season by adding an additional six teams to the playoff pool. The first and second place teams of each division are in the playoff pool with two more additional teams with the next best records from the American and National leagues. These four additional teams are considered the wildcard teams. 

The first round is now called the Wild Card Series and is set to be a best of three series. Similar to normal playoff formats, the first seed will face the eighth seed (the worst of the Wild Card teams), the second seed will face the seventh seed (another Wild Card team) and so on. What makes this crazy is that the team with the best record in all of baseball may not even make it to the division series. The original Wild Card game was already a toss-up because a bunch of random things could happen in a one game playoff series. 

Last year, the National League Wild Card game came down to an eighth inning base-clearing single from Juan Soto. After an incredible pitching performance up to the eighth inning from the Brewers pitching staff, all it took was for one reliever to break down and cause them to lose the game. Many people have disliked the format of the Wild Card Game because of the randomness that occurs in baseball similar to the example just given. Now, you have to win two games instead of just one. 

There is likely to still be backlash about how short this series is, as so much can happen in one game and being down 0-1 in a best-of-three series is a recipe for disaster. For example, in the current situation, MLB.com shows that the Los Angeles Dodgers would face the Milwaukee Brewers. What if Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw hurts his hand right before Game 1 and cannot pitch for two days? That would mean Kershaw would get to pitch in Game 3. But what if there isn’t a Game 3? What if the Dodgers throw in someone who isn’t necessarily completely ready to pitch in Game 1 and they lose? Going down 0-1 in a best-of-three series clearly is bad and who knows, what if everyone on the Dodgers is slumping in Game 2 or the Brewers go absolutely crazy and score twenty runs?

A longer series tends to account for these situations. Any injury would be devastating here because as stated previously, there are no off days and you need to win these immediate two games to even get to the Division series. After the Wild Card Series is the Division series and then the Championship series. Both of these series are the same, besides the fact that there are no off days. Another thing to note is the addition of the Wild Card Series’ three games for every team to play in, which adds another three possible games to a possibly already long postseason. 

An extra-long postseason with no off days seems absolutely crazy because of how intense the pitching needs to be in the playoffs. However, the need for a bubble and reducing as much outside exposure as possible by having no off days is an incredible idea to keep everyone safe, but as the playoffs approach and everything appears to be going crazy, everyone has the same thing on their mind, “These playoffs are gonna be crazy.”

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