Baseball backlash: Lesser teams are advancing in playoffs, and not everyone is happy


MLB championship trophies are about to be handed out to teams that didn’t play like champions for six months — and hardcore traditionalists of America’s pastime are not wild about that.

The National League Championship Series, a best-of-seven competition that’ll determine one World Series participant, is set to start Monday with the Philadelphia Phillies taking on the Arizona Diamondbacks.

Philadelphia and Arizona both finished a distant second in their divisions, the Phillies to the dominant Atlanta Braves, and the Diamondbacks to the Los Angeles Dodgers.

“Remember when winning a division title in Major League Baseball meant something?” New York Mets radio voice Howie Rose ruefully expressed on the X platform late Thursday night, just minutes after Philadelphia eliminated Atlanta.

This is the second year under a new, expanded format of 12 teams qualifying for the postseason. The creeping expansion, from eight teams in 1995 to 10 in 2012 and now 12, stems from MLB executives wanting to create more content for national television. But the boosted revenue comes at the price of what critics say are bloated competitions that give undeserving teams a chance to knock better teams out of the running to win the World Series.

This will be the second consecutive NLCS with no division winners. Last year, the second-best team in the NL West, the San Diego Padres, battled the East’s third-place finisher Philadelphia. The Phillies also sent the 2022 East-champion Braves to an early vacation.

Social media was awash Friday with fans criticizing MLB’s current format and offering up their suggested tweaks.

Former Northern California sports journalist Carl Steward took note of the Braves, Dodgers, Baltimore Orioles, Milwaukee Brewers and Rays — all but Tampa Bay division winners — surrendering with barely a whimper, hinting a change is needed in the playoffs.

“Teams with five best records in baseball went 1-13 in the playoffs, and the one win came on a late-inning comeback homer. So what’s left?” Steward posted. “Three wild cards and a division champ with the second fewest wins. Something’s amiss.”

And noted baseball author and journalist Molly Knight, who counted herself as a fan of the “awesome and awful” brought by “the randomness” of playoff baseball, now believes there’s a legitimate drumbeat growing for change in the wake of so many upsets.

“Like I said, I’ve been on the ‘stop whining and win the ball games’ side, but the chatter around the league right now from players, media and execs is that the new playoff format is bad for the game and needs to be fixed,” she wrote on her Substack Friday.

For most of the 20th Century, MLB’s postseason was a simple two-team affair with regular-season champions of the American and National Leagues meeting in the World Series. The first postseason expansion came in 1969 when four teams made it, and that formula held for 26 years.

Los Angeles Dodgers manager Dave Roberts removes pitcher Bobby Miller from Game 2 of the National League Division Series against the Arizona Diamondbacks on Monday.Harry How / Getty Images

Under the current format, the National and American Leagues each have three divisions of five teams each. The division winners all make the playoffs, followed by the three clubs in each league with the best records, including tiebreakers.

The two division winners in each league with the best record get a bye in the first round and nearly a week’s rest while the other teams battle in the opening round in a best-of-three format.

So in the NL, the runaway division-winning Braves and Dodgers cooled their heels while the Phillies dispatched the Miami Marlins and the Diamondbacks ousted the Milwaukee Brewers.

But that rest didn’t benefit division champions Atlanta and LA.

The Braves (104-58), who were 14 games better than the Phillies (90-72), and the Dodgers (100-62), 16 games superior to the D-backs (84-78), were eliminated in their best-of-five rounds, with the Braves winning one game and the Dodgers none.

Dodgers manager Dave Roberts refused to pin any blame on the new postseason structure.

“There’s some things with the format that people can dissect or whatever, but the bottom line is that the last two years we’ve got outplayed in the postseason,” Roberts told reporters Wednesday night in Phoenix, following his team’s elimination.

“It doesn’t matter if it was a seven-game series, we lost the first three games. For me, I’ve got to do a better job of figuring out a way to get our guys prepared for the postseason. I’ll own that. I think we’ve got great players. I’ve got to figure out a way to get these guys prepared for whatever format, whatever series.”

MLB commissioner Ron Manfred defended the format, telling reporters in Philadelphia on Thursday to have more patience.

“It’s only Year 2,” he said, according to ESPN. “I’m sort of the view you need to give something a chance to work out. I know some of the higher-seeded teams didn’t win. I think if you think about where some of those teams were, there are other explanations than a five-day layoff. But I think we’ll re-evaluate in the offseason like we always do and think about if we have the format right.”

In other nations that play baseball at a high level, those leagues — with the benefit of fewer teams — bend over backward to help division winners into the final series.

In Japan, teams are divided into the Pacific and Central Leagues. The top three teams of each league qualify for the postseason with the Nos. 2 and 3 facing off first before that winner takes on the league champ for a spot in the Japan Series.

In that penultimate round, known as the Climax Series, its a best-of-six with the Central and Pacific League champs being handed a one-game advantage, a huge reward for winning the regular season.

South Korea employs a radical stepladder format that sends its regular-season KBO champ directly, after a long wait, to the Korean Series.

The top five clubs qualify for postseason with No. 5 playing No. 4 to start the tournament. Then the 4-5 winner plays No. 3 before that survivor takes on No. 2.

That penultimate winner then gets to play the regular season’s top side.

The waiting is the hardest part as the 2022 Korean Series winners, the SSG Landers, played their final regular season game last year on Oct. 8 before they saw their next action on Nov. 1.

In Taiwan, the CPBL is split into two 60-game halves with those pair of half-season champs facing off in the Taiwan Series.





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