MLB playoffs expansion aims for fairness without killing the fun

The Major League Baseball (MLB) playoffs begin Friday. The top six teams in the American and National leagues will play for the next few weeks to see which two teams will compete in the 2022 World Series.

The playoffs are different this year. First, the playoffs have expanded from five teams in each league to six, including three “wild card” teams, or teams with the best records that didn’t win a division.

Instead of one “win or go home” game between the two wild-card teams, the three wild-card teams and the division winner with the worst regular season record will play in best-of-three-game series. The two division winners with the best regular season records will wait to play the winners in a best-of-five-game series.

The folks at MLB say this system is more fair. It was tough for a wild-card team that had a terrific record to have their season come down to one all-or-nothing game.

But the MLB playoffs are not designed to be fair. After all, the Houston Astros and Los Angeles Dodgers have spent the 162-game season proving they are the best teams in the American and National leagues.

After Tuesday’s games, the Astros had won 105 games, six more than any other American League team. The Dodgers have won an amazing 110 games and outscored their opponents by an incredible 329 runs.

If they wanted to be fair, MLB would just place the Astros and the Dodgers in the World Series and let them play seven games. The MLB playoffs, however, are designed to be fun with lots of dramatic games where one hit or one pitch could make all the difference.

The best teams do not always win in a short series. In the nine seasons since MLB expanded the playoffs to include a wild-card game (I did not count the pandemic-shortened 2020 season), the team with the best regular season record in its league has gone to the World Series less than half of the time (7 out of 18).

Washington baseball fans know that. The Nationals had the best record in the National League in 2012 and 2014 but did not make the World Series. In 2019, the Nats qualified for the playoffs as a wild card and won it all.

Any team can have a streak in which they win or lose a few games in a row. The Dodgers won 110 games this season, but even they had some losing streaks. Five times during their spectacular 2022 season, the Dodgers lost at least three games in a row. One time, they lost four in a row.

So watch as many playoff games as you can. The Astros and Dodgers are not guaranteed to make the World Series. Anything can happen in the MLB playoffs. And usually does.

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