MLB is considering radical changes to the playoff format. How would this affect the Astros?
As if there wasn’t enough drama in the game of baseball, with the Astros still under a microscope and Spring Training about to begin, we have a new story to talk about. Major League Baseball is apparently looking into changing its current playoff format to include seven teams from each league rather than five.
The teams with the best record in each league would get a first-round bye, bypassing the Wild Card round. The remaining six teams would match up in a best-of-three series, with the remaining two division winners and the Wild Card team with the best record getting to host all three games of those series. The winners would move on to the Division Series round.
In an added wrinkle, the two division winners in the Wild Card round would get to choose their opponents. The division winner with the better record would get the first pick, and the other division winner would pick next. The top Wild Card team would face whichever team remains. The plan could be implemented as early as the 2022 season.
Under this plan, a total of 14 of the league’s 30 teams would advance to the postseason. It would keep more teams in the playoff hunt and would also incentivize finishing with the league’s best record. It’s somewhat of a radical change that will be met with plenty of strong opinions.
How Would This Affect the Astros?
Had this format been in place in 2019, it wouldn’t have changed much. The Astros still would have bypassed the Wild Card round by virtue of having the league’s best record. The main difference is they would have been the only team to do that, and thus could have had different opponents in the later rounds.
But go back to 2015 when the Astros made the playoffs as a Wild Card team. They faced the Yankees in a one-game playoff at Yankee Stadium with Dallas Keuchel and the bullpen shutting down the New York offense. The one-game series worked in their favor.
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In this format, the Astros would have had to play a best-of-three series on the road. Their opponent would have been either the Blue Jays, Rangers or Yankees, depending on who selected them. The Angels and Twins would have been the other three road teams in that series.
The 2016 Astros still would have missed the playoffs in this format. The 2017 club had the league’s second-best record, so they would have their choice of opponent in their Wild Card matchup. The Twins would have been one possibility; the other two spots would have come down to the Angels, Rays and Royals, who all went 80-82. That issue would’ve had to be sorted out somehow.
The same would be true in 2018. With the second-best record, the Astros could have chosen to host Oakland, Tampa Bay or Seattle. The Mariners, at 89-73, had the worst record of the three. Who knows if that would have changed anything?
What it means for the future is simple. There is more opportunity for teams to get into the playoffs, but also more incentive to win the division and have the league’s best record. Since it will be at least a couple of years before this change would take effect, the current Astros team won’t really be affected.
But this roster could look totally different two years from now. Alex Bregman, Jose Altuve, Kyle Tucker and Yordan Alvarez will probably still be around, but the rest of the club is uncertain. Who knows how strong the team will be or what the roster will look like? Who knows how good the other teams in the AL West will be?
Even if the Astros aren’t a superpower in a couple of years, they should still be competitive. The expanded format will give them a better shot at the postseason. In the end, it’s hard to argue with that.