Consider everything abnormal, truly insane or simply stupid about the 60 game MLB season. Two teams that had close to or exactly half their rosters sick with COVID-19 at one point had to sit out of the season for two weeks and get healthy. The San Francisco Giants came within one run and one loss of miraculously making the playoffs. The league leader in ERA came in at 1.63, with the top five all finishing below 2.10. Yu Darvish has a legit NL Cy Young case. Three full-time batters hit over .340. The Seattle Mariners weren’t horrible. The Miami Marlins are in the playoffs, and overcame an outbreak of the virus on the way there. If the regular season was dumb – and it certainly was – then MLB’s playoffs are about to be even dumber.
You can first pinpoint this with the amount of teams in the postseason, and baseball’s plan to narrow those down. Eights teams in each league will play a three game set against the highest or lowest seed available (No.1 vs. No.8, No.2 vs. No.7, etc). The variance of sixty games is mightily high. MLB has decided to carry that on in the utmost way into its postseason. Whoever wins Game 1 of the Wild Card round just has to win one more time to move on.
That could produce massive upsets, which certainly makes for great TV and entertainment, but doesn’t exactly ensure that the sport’s best teams are playing for the championship. You could argue that was never MLB’s plan this year – the loss of revenue from playing just 60 games and a lack of fans is obviously massive; driving up TV viewership could have been their only goal. But what a three game series in the first round of the playoffs does is put teams in a funky spot when it comes to evaluation and planning for years to come. Shouldn’t MLB be trying to foster real competition between its best teams? Nothing makes for better TV than a great game between two awesome rosters in the playoffs.
Baseball rarely produces a championship from the its best team though. Even in 162 game seasons and a normal playoffs, the variance is too high. But MLB is truly embracing that now, putting its teams, players and employees at risk. How are the Blue Jays supposed to feel if they win the World Series? There’s a worry that their young team comes crashing back down next season, because they can’t get it done for a season that’s 2.7 times longer than the one they just had. What about the Marlins? That’s a poor team that could get tricked into believing in themselves with a deep playoff run, then spend a bunch of money over the offseason, stink in 2021 and be out not just lost gate revenue but millions on players they probably shouldn’t have paid for. The Giants almost made it into October. Regardless of what their success could have been, they could have easily torn the team down in the offseason as its core is on average 30 years old. That wouldn’t be a great look for a team that surprised everyone and made the playoffs.
MLB is playing with fire here. There are excuses – or asterisks – for most of the teams in the playoffs if they happen to win the World Series. The Dodgers? No fans to put pressure on their necks. No real stakes considering the short season. The Braves? Their bullpen only had 60 games worth of stress on it, not 162, giving them more strength for the playoffs. The Cubs? A 33 year old with 104 ERA+ in the two seasons before 2020 is a Cy Young candidate thanks to 12 starts and a 28 year old career minor leaguer who threw a no-hitter in his 27th MLB game ever saved their pitching staff and season. The Padres – well – the Padres are just awesome, and no one has seen this as stunning.
Lets switch leagues. Like San Diego, the Rays were built for this and are likely going to be contenders from now on, so they have a lack of an asterisk aside from the variance 60 games brings. The short season allowed the Twins still-shaky rotation to not be a major problem and nip their success. The same can be said about Cleveland’s offense minus Jose Ramirez, or the Yankees’ pitching. Houston’s in the postseason thanks to MLB’s seeding travesty and their weak division. Toronto and the White Sox follow similar patterns to San Diego and Tampa Bay: you could see it coming – both teams will be here for awhile and the only question those teams have to answer is whether they can be consistent over a much longer season.
This isn’t advocating for you to not watch the MLB postseason. It’s just a warning that whatever is about to transpire may not be deemed truly representative of the sport. Teams will be celebrating as they move on and win, but upstairs, it’ll create headaches for those in charge.
The 2020 MLB season mimics life quite well. It seems as if we’re in an alternate universe just waiting to be transported back, but life is still actually going on, and we’re kind of having our time wasted right now.