Which MLB teams will benefit from expanded playoffs?

MLB expanded playoffs
Jonathan Newton /The Washington Post via Getty Images

With hours to go before the start of the 60-game 2020 regular season, the MLBPA agreed to the MLB proposal for expanded playoffs. According to Bob Nightengale of USA TODAY, the first round will feature best-of-three series. ESPN’s Buster Olney adds that the first- and second-place teams in each division would qualify and the remaining two teams would have the best records among the remaining nine teams in each league. Also, per Olney, top-seeded teams would will pick their first-round opponents in a televised show.

So which teams stand to benefit from this temporary change to the postseason structure? Looking at the projected standings from Baseball Prospectus, here’s what the postseason would have looked like with no changes:

AL Wild Card: Indians vs. Rays
ALDS 1: Yankees vs. Indians/Rays
ALDS 2: Twins vs. Astros
NL Wild Card: Cubs vs. Mets
NLDS 1: Dodgers vs. Cubs/Mets
NLDS 2: Reds vs. Nationals

And here’s what it would look like now (some assumptions made):

ALDS 1: Yankees vs. White Sox
ALDS 2: Astros vs. Angels
ALDS 3: Twins vs. Indians
ALDS 4: Rays vs. Athletics

NLDS 1: Dodgers vs. Braves
NLDS 2: Nationals vs. Cardinals
NLDS 3: Reds vs. Mets
NLDS 4: Cubs vs. Diamondbacks

The new format introduces more teams and a shorter first round (the NLDS is usually five games), thus there will be more volatility. This is bad for elite teams like the Dodgers, Yankees, Astros, and Twins, and good for everyone else. Teams that would have otherwise been watching the postseason from home are obviously happy about this change, which would include fringe teams like the Braves, Cardinals, Brewers, Diamondbacks, Padres, Red Sox, White Sox, and Angels.

The playoffs already had a ton of variance; the team with the best record rarely won the World Series. The Nationals, for example, won the World Series last year as one of two Wild Cards from the National League. They went 93-69 during the regular season, finishing four games out of first place. They defeated the Dodgers, who won 106 games, in the NLDS. The new playoff format will allow for even more variance. Thus, it would not be surprising to see a No. 8 seed win it all.

Perhaps the most important question of all is: will winning a championship in 2020 be seen as legitimate compared to previous seasons? There’s no objectively correct answer. People value different criteria for different reasons. But, objectively, a shorter regular season means that the best teams aren’t always winning their divisions. An expanded playoff pool with shorter first-round series means that the best teams aren’t always advancing. While the league is likely to uphold the results of the 2020 season as equal to those of previous years, players and teams will be subjected to claims of luck, both good and bad. Those will, as always, be colored by rooting interests and other individual biases.

Bonds, Clemens left out of Hall again; McGriff elected

John Hefti-USA TODAY Sports

SAN DIEGO – Moments after Fred McGriff was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame, almost two decades after his final game, he got the question.

Asked if Barry Bonds belonged in Cooperstown, a smiling McGriff responded: “Honestly, right now, I’m going to just enjoy this evening.”

A Hall of Fame committee delivered its answer Sunday, passing over Bonds, Roger Clemens and Curt Schilling while handing McGriff the biggest honor of his impressive big league career.

The lanky first baseman, nicknamed the “Crime Dog,” hit .284 with 493 homers and 1,550 RBIs over 19 seasons with six major league teams. The five-time All-Star helped Atlanta win the 1995 World Series.

McGriff got 169 votes (39.8%) in his final year on the Baseball Writers’ Association of America ballot in 2019. Now, he will be inducted into Cooperstown on July 23, along with anyone chosen in the writers’ vote, announced Jan. 24.

“It’s all good. It’s been well worth the wait,” said McGriff, who played his last big league game in 2004.

It was the first time that Bonds, Clemens and Schilling had faced a Hall committee since their 10th and final appearances on the Baseball Writers’ Association of America ballot. Bonds and Clemens have been accused of using performance-enhancing drugs, and support for Schilling dropped after he made hateful remarks toward Muslims, transgender people, reporters and others.

While the 59-year-old McGriff received unanimous support from the 16 members of the contemporary baseball era committee – comprised of Hall members, executives and writers – Schilling got seven votes, and Bonds and Clemens each received fewer than four.

The makeup of the committee likely will change over the years, but the vote was another indication that Bonds and Clemens might never make it to the Hall.

This year’s contemporary era panel included Greg Maddux, who played with McGriff on the Braves, along with Paul Beeston, who was an executive with Toronto when McGriff made his big league debut with the Blue Jays in 1986.

Another ex-Brave, Chipper Jones, was expected to be part of the committee, but he tested positive for COVID-19 and was replaced by Arizona Diamondbacks President Derrick Hall.

The contemporary era committee considers candidates whose careers were primarily from 1980 on. A player needs 75% to be elected.

“It’s tough deciding on who to vote for and who not to vote for and so forth,” McGriff said. “So it’s a great honor to be unanimously voted in.”

In addition to all his big hits and memorable plays, one of McGriff’s enduring legacies is his connection to a baseball skills video from youth coach Tom Emanski. The slugger appeared in a commercial for the product that aired regularly during the late 1990s and early 2000s – wearing a blue Baseball World shirt and hat.

McGriff said he has never seen the video.

“Come Cooperstown, I’ve got to wear my blue hat,” a grinning McGriff said. “My Tom Emanski hat in Cooperstown. See that video is going to make a revival now, it’s going to come back.”

Hall of Famers Jack Morris, Ryne Sandberg, Lee Smith, Frank Thomas and Alan Trammell also served on this year’s committee, which met in San Diego at baseball’s winter meetings.

Rafael Palmeiro, Albert Belle, Don Mattingly and Dale Murphy rounded out the eight-man ballot. Mattingly was next closest to election, with eight votes of 12 required. Murphy had six.

Bonds, Clemens and Schilling fell short in January in their final chances with the BBWAA. Bonds received 260 of 394 votes (66%), Clemens 257 (65.2%) and Schilling 231 (58.6%).

Palmeiro was dropped from the BBWAA ballot after receiving 25 votes (4.4%) in his fourth appearance in 2014, falling below the 5% minimum needed to stay on. His high was 72 votes (12.6%) in 2012.

Bonds has denied knowingly using performance-enhancing drugs, and Clemens maintains he never used PEDs. Palmeiro was suspended for 10 days in August 2005 following a positive test under the major league drug program.

A seven-time NL MVP, Bonds set the career home run record with 762 and the season record with 73 in 2001. A seven-time Cy Young Award winner, Clemens went 354-184 with a 3.12 ERA and 4,672 strikeouts, third behind Nolan Ryan (5,714) and Randy Johnson (4,875). Palmeiro had 3,020 hits and 568 homers.

Schilling fell 16 votes shy with 285 (71.1%) on the 2021 BBWAA ballot. The right-hander went 216-146 with a 3.46 ERA in 20 seasons, winning the World Series with Arizona in 2001 and Boston in 2004 and 2007.

Theo Epstein, who also served on the contemporary era committee, was the GM in Boston when the Red Sox acquired Schilling in a trade with the Diamondbacks in November 2003.

Players on Major League Baseball’s ineligible list cannot be considered, a rule that excludes Pete Rose.