Friday, March 2, 2012

How The New Playoff Format Would Have Affected The Past


MLB made it officially official on Friday afternoon, saying that the playoffs would expand to 10 teams starting this season. Which means that the three division winners are at a distinct advantage, as the two wild card winners in each league will have to play a one-game playoff to move on to the traditional Division Series.

MLB also announced that for this season only, the Division Series will be a 2-3 format rather than 2-2-1 with the "underdog" having the first two home games. Things will return to normal in 2013, but it's not the first time MLB has used that format for the Division Series, as it was used in 1997.

If you're wondering, only one of the "underdogs" moved on in those four series that season, the Florida Marlins. Who went on to win the World Series against the Indians in that fantastic seven-game series.

Anyway, I decided to take a look at how the new playoff format would have affected the MLB postseason had it been in effect since MLB went to six divisions in 1994. So let's take a look.

1994 

NOTHING HAPPENED EXCEPT TEARS. THE NEW PLAYOFF FORMAT COULDN'T CHANGE THAT.

1995 
(Playoff teams listed in order of best record to worst)

AL Playoff teams: Cleveland, Boston, Seattle, New York (WC)
NL Playoff teams: Atlanta, Cincinnati, Los Angeles, Colorado (WC)

Under the new format, the Yankees would have had to play the Angels to get into the playoffs, while the Rockies would have had to play Houston. In both cases, the teams were separated by a mere game, so no true injustice would  have been committed.

Also, neither the Yankees or Rockies advanced.

1996

AL Playoff teams: Cleveland, New York, Texas, Baltimore (WC)
NL Playoff teams: Atlanta, San Diego, Los Angeles (WC), St. Louis

Under the new format the Orioles would have had to play the White Sox or Mariners. Seattle played one less game than the White Sox because the game had no impact on the standings. Though had Seattle lost that extra game to Cleveland, the White Sox and Mariners would have had to play a tie-breaker game for the right to play Baltimore in the playoff game. Had Seattle won that extra game against Cleveland, they'd have faced Baltimore, and we all know Cleveland would have let Seattle win that game because Cleveland had already won the division and they're a bunch of dicks who would just want to keep the Sox out.

Anyway, Baltimore had three more wins than either team, so it wouldn't be entirely fair, but not terrible either.

In the National League the Dodgers (90-72) would have had to play the 88-74 Expos in a playoff game. Which means that the Dodgers may have missed the playoffs in spite of the fact that they had a better record than the Cardinals (88-74), who automatically advanced.

The greatest part of all this is that if Baltimore had lost to Seattle in the playoff game, we never would have had the Jeffery Maier/Tony Tarasco incident.

1997

AL Playoff teams: Baltimore, New York (WC), Seattle, Cleveland
NL Playoff teams: Atlanta, Florida (WC), San Francisco, Houston

Here's where the crazy would happen. This was the first time in history that a wild card team reached the World Series, though the Marlins had a better record than the other division winners in each league.

Still, the 92-70 Marlins would have had to play the Dodgers or Mets (both 88-74) first and the 96-66 Yankees would have had to play the 84-78 Angels.

Though considering the Yankees lost to the 86-75 Indians in the LDS, they have no right for hypothetical history beef.

1998

AL Playoff teams: New York, Boston (WC), Cleveland, Texas
NL Playoff teams: Atlanta, Houston, San Diego, Chicago (WC)

Under the new format, Boston (92-70) would have had to play Toronto (88-74). Which is somewhat similar to what could happen in 2012 with so many strong teams in the AL East. Of course, considering that Boston lost to the Indians in the LDS, nothing crazy would have happened here.

In the NL things would have worked out exactly the same because the Cubs and Giants finished the regular season with the same record and faced off in a one-game playoff anyway.

1999

AL Playoff teams: New York, Cleveland, Texas, Boston (WC)
NL Playoff teams: Atlanta, Arizona, Houston, New York (WC

Much like in 1998, nothing would have changed in the NL, as the Mets had to play Cincinnati in a one-game playoff to determine the wild card team anyway.

In the American League the Red Sox (94-68) would have had to play Oakland (87-75) in a playoff game, and while it wouldn't have altered the World Series, it may have meant that "Moneyball" hit theaters five years sooner and had an entirely different plot.

2000

AL Playoff teams: Chicago, Oakland, Seattle (WC), New York
NL Playoff teams: San Francisco, St. Louis, Atlanta, New York

In the AL, Seattle would have had to play Cleveland first, and had that happened, maybe Cleveland gets in and the White Sox have to play the Yankees instead of Seattle, and maybe Jerry Manuel doesn't get completely out-managed by Lou Piniella and one of the great seasons in White Sox history doesn't end in three heartbreaking games come October.

And then maybe the White Sox beat the Yankees and save the world from having to deal with an all-New York World Series and maybe the White Sox win their first World Series in 83 years and maybe we have two trophies to call our own.

Maybe.

In the NL the Mets would have had to play the Dodgers, who finished 8 games behind them in the standings. Which doesn't seem fair to me, but at least it might have saved them the pain of losing a World Series to the Yankees.

2001

AL Playoff teams: Seattle, Oakland (WC), New York, Cleveland
NL Playoff teams: Houston, St. Louis (WC), Arizona, Atlanta

Imagine you're the Oakland Athletics, and you go 102-60 but play in a damn division where the Seattle Mariners decide to win 116 games. And then you're told that after winning 102 games, you have to play one game against the 85-77 Twins to decide whether or not you deserve to be in the playoffs.

Thus far it looks like 2001 would be the first year in which fans took pitchforks to the playoff format.

And that doesn't include St. Louis finishing the year tied for the best record in the NL but having to play San Francisco in a playoff. Man, things would have changed.

2002

AL Playoff teams: New York, Oakland, Anaheim (WC), Minnesota
NL Playoff teams: Atlanta, Arizona, St. Louis, San Francisco (WC)

Nothing too egregious here, as Anaheim would have had to play Boston or Seattle, who both finished a game behind them, while the Giants would have had to play the Dodgers, who finished three games behind them.

And MLB would have loved a one-game playoff between the Giants and Dodgers.

2003

AL Playoff teams: New York, Oakland, Boston (WC), Minnesota
NL Playoff teams: Atlanta, San Francisco, Florida (WC), Chicago

While Boston wouldn't have been happy to play the 93-win Mariners to get into the playoffs, the Marlins had the most on the line here. Instead of shocking the world by beating the Yankees in the 2003 World Series, they may have lost a one-game playoff to the 87-win Houston Astros first.

2004

AL Playoff teams: New York, Boston (WC), Anaheim, Minnesota
NL Playoff teams: St. Louis, Atlanta, Los Angeles, Houston (WC)

The curse is over! The curse is over!

Or is it?

The 98-win Red Sox may have lost to the 91-win Athletics before ever burying Babe Ruth.

2005

AL Playoff teams: Chicago, Los Angeles, New York, Boston (WC)
NL Playoff teams: St. Louis, Atlanta, Houston (WC), San Diego

What if Boston had lost to Cleveland in a play-in game? Would the Sox have swept the Yankees, or would those bastards have robbed us of a World Series title?

Also, even if the Sox survived, how do we know they'd be playing Houston? The Astros may have lost a playoff game against Philadelphia.

2006

AL Playoff teams: New York, Minnesota, Detroit (WC), Oakland
NL Playoff teams: New York, San Diego, Los Angeles (WC), St. Louis

The Dodgers would have had to play the Phillies first, meaning one of two teams with better records than the eventual World Series champion would have been eliminated. Still, it was San Diego and New York who the Cardinals dispatched in the playoffs that year, so I'm not sure anything could have stopped them.

Though what if Detroit lost a one-game playoff against the MIGHTY White Sox? And then the White Sox ran roughshod through the postseason once again, correcting the great injustice that was an 83-win World Series champ?

2007

AL Playoff teams: Boston, Cleveland, Los Angeles, New York (WC)
NL Playoff teams: Arizona, Colorado (WC), Philadelphia, Chicago

However things shook out in the AL, it wouldn't have been right for the 94-win Yankees to have to play either Seattle or Detroit (both 88-74) before qualifying for the playoffs.

As for the NL, nothing changes because Colorado won a tie-breaker against San Diego for the wild card anyway. So they'd have been free to get swept by the Red Sox in the World Series again.

2008

AL Playoff teams: Los Angeles, Tampa Bay, Boston (WC), Chicago
NL Playoff teams: Chicago, Philadelphia, Milwaukee (WC), Los Angeles

It may not have been fair considering they were separated by 6 games, but we can't pretend MLB wouldn't have been touching itself at the idea of the Red Sox and Yankees playing in the one-game playoff. Whoever won that game, the Sox would have been stuck playing Tampa Bay in the first round, so we have no third World Series to theoretically claim.

In the NL Milwaukee would have had to play the Mets, who finished a game behind them, so no big deal. Well, except for the fact the Dodgers finished 5 games behind the Mets in the standings, and got the auto-bid.

2009

AL Playoff teams: New York, Los Angeles, Boston (WC), Minnesota
NL Playoff teams: Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Colorado (WC), St. Louis

Would it have been fair to make Boston play Texas even though the Red Sox finished 8 games ahead of them?

How about making Colorado face a San Francisco team it had beat by 4 games?

No, but given that New York and Philly ended up in the Series, it probably didn't matter. They were the two best teams that October and it really wasn't that close.

2010

AL Playoff teams: Tampa Bay, New York (WC), Minnesota, Texas
NL Playoff teams: Philadelphia, San Francisco, Cincinnati, Atlanta (WC)

Bud Selig gets another erection as the Yankees and Red Sox face off in a playoff game. Who cares that New York had 6 more wins? Also, the White Sox finished a game behind Boston that year.

Meanwhile Atlanta would have had to play San Diego, but they were only separated by a game. What gets interesting is that the Padres and Giants had quite a battle going in 2010, and it would have been interesting to see what would have happened if they'd met in the NLCS.

2011

AL Playoff teams: New York, Texas, Detroit, Tampa Bay (WC)
NL Playoff teams: Philadelphia, Milwaukee, Arizona, St. Louis (WC)

This would have taken the fun out of the final day of the regular season last year. Still, Tampa Bay would have had to play Boston in a playoff, and those dramatic home runs from Dan Johnson and Evan Longoria wouldn't have been nearly as dramatic.

In the NL St. Louis and Atlanta would have faced off, killing the drama there. Though considering the way Atlanta finished the season, I'm not all that confident they knock off St. Louis and keep them from another World Series title.

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