HomeThe ShuffleThat’s the Way the Baseball Playoffs Bounces

That’s the Way the Baseball Playoffs Bounces

With one week left in the regular season, most of the mystery has gone out of who is going to the playoffs. But the playoff format might have some bearing on whether you bet the best team, the Dodgers, to go all the way.

When Major League Baseball expanded the playoffs last spring in its last-minute deal with the Players Association, the extra two teams were expected to create lots of competition and excitement was we came down the stretch. It turns out, not so much.

Barring a collapse of any team currently in playoff positions accompanied by a winning streak from one of the last two remaining contenders, what you see is what you’ll get.

And this by no means diminishes what the Baltimore Orioles have done this year. Almost universally predicted to be the cellar dweller in the American League East, the Orioles confounded all experts by hanging around the hunt all year—even after trading away their two best players at the trade deadline. But it was just too steep a hill to climb.

The Milwaukee Brewers may still make the playoffs, at this writing they’re just 1.5 games out. But it’s the team they’re chasing, the Philadelphia Phillies, who are all too familiar with late season swoons, that makes this a possibility.

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Dodgers Enjoy First-Round Bye

So the playoffs will feature first round byes in the National League for the Los Angeles Dodgers and either the New York Mets or the Atlanta Braves, who are contesting a hard-fought challenge for the Eastern crown. The first round should see the St. Louis Cardinals host the Phillies or the Brewers and the Mets/Braves hosting the San Diego Padres.

In the American League, it’s all over but the shouting. The Houston Astros and New York Yankees will get the byes while Cleveland Guardians will host the Seattle Mariners and the Toronto Blue Jays host the Tampa Bay Rays.

But in its infinite wisdom, MLB has changed the playoff system as well. Gone—thanks be to God—is the one-game play-in, a terrible idea for a sport that prides itself in excellence over the long run. Replacing it is a three-game set, with a unique twist. The higher seed hosts all three games. Winning a three-game series on the road is no simple task, so advantage definitely goes to the home team.

And then in a normal playoff run, the teams are generally re-seeded after the first round so the higher seeds—Dodgers-Mets/Astros-Yankees—play the lower seeds. Not in the infinite wisdom of the baseball gods this year. In the 2022 format, the top seed faces the winner of the first round series between the No. 4 and No. 5 seed. Should the No. 6 seed somehow defeat the No. 3 seed in round one, that winner would face the No. 2 seed.

For example, let’s say the Braves and Padres play in the 4-5 matchup and the Braves win. In the other bracket suppose the Phillies defeat the Cardinals. The No. 6 seed Phillies would play the No. 2 seed Mets, rather than the top seed Dodgers, as would be the case in a normal seeded playoff system, while the Dodgers would face the much tougher Braves, who beat them along the way to last year’s World Series win.

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Beware of No. 1 Seeds

If you’re tempted to bet the Dodgers and their record-breaking season to win the World Series, you have to think twice. Even if the Padres somehow slip past the Braves, they have a tremendous incentive to beat the Dodgers who have spanked them all year, especially with Yu Darvish and Blake Snell pitching their hearts out in the final weeks of the season.

The same could be true in the American League. The Astros have been clearly the class of the league—despite the Yankees stealing the headlines with the Aaron Judge home run chase. They could wind up playing the powerhouse Blue Jays rather than the struggling six-seed Mariners. And the Yankees may have to face the red-hot Guardians.

So the format of the playoffs is going to play a very big role in who hoists the World Series trophy, possibly sometime in November. So before placing your futures bets on the winners of each of the playoff series, take that into account.

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