Braves: Does an expanded postseason help or hurt?

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The idea was discussed during the four-month layoff, but last Thursday, it became official: the 2020 MLB postseason will expand to 16 teams. ESPN’s Marly Rivera first reported the news after approval came in from the MLB Players Association (MLBPA).

 

The reported details of this year’s expanded playoffs follow closely with what was kicked around months ago. Since it has been quite a while, here’s a list of essential specifics, via CBS Sports:

All first-round games will be part of a best-of-three series, reports The Athletic’s Jayson Stark. The games will also be played at the home of the higher seeded-team, eliminating the need for a travel day.

The league and MLBPA agreed on a $50 million postseason bonus pool for players, per Evan Drellich of The Athletic. MLB had previously offered $25 million in negotiations last month.

All six second-place teams (every division) will qualify for the 16-team playoff format, per ESPN’s Buster Olney. The seventh and eighth teams will be chosen by the best record among other teams. Teams will be seeded one through eight based on the 2020 season record.

 Obviously, there are legitimate concerns that expanding this year’s postseason could lead to an even bigger gamble, given there’s a real possibility that COVID-19 makes a fierce comeback during the fall. But today we’re going to limit the discussion to how the recent changes impact the Braves competitively. Debating the general decision to push MLB’s 2020 campaign even further into the year is an article for another time. 

Common sense tells us that an expanded postseason means more teams will be eligible for the playoffs, which lessens the pressure to win for teams currently right outside the bubble of contention. And adding six more teams — three from each league — could help rather significantly for those types of clubs.

But the Braves, who as we know have won the last two NL East titles, aren’t exactly one of those teams. According to most outlets, the Braves are projected to win the division in 2020, and I haven’t seen many people predicting them finishing below second-place and grabbing a Wild Card spot. Per FanGraphs‘ 2020 playoff odds, the Braves — with a normal 10-team playoff field — are sitting at a 50.6% chance to make the playoffs this season, and a 30% chance to win the division. 

But on the National League side, several clubs could use a bit of a push: NL East teams like the Mets (43.2% chance to make playoffs) and Phillies (24%), NL West teams such as the Padres (40.5%) and Diamondbacks (21.6%), as well as the NL Central’s Brewers (41.6%), Reds (39.6%) and Cardinals (32.9%) — those will be the clubs who stand to benefit the most from the added pool of eligible teams, which in theory, isn’t necessarily very beneficial to the Braves (more teams in the running increases the chances of parity). 

But it also increases the Braves chances of reaching the playoffs in 2020. Although, winning the NL East just became a lot less important, considering a division champ’s only prize now is gaining home-field advantage. That doesn’t really hurt the Braves, but it certainly doesn’t reward them either. 

To me, six more teams in this year’s postseason isn’t a bad thing. It does drastically impact the importance of ending the season as the best team, but watering down the significance of something doesn’t always mean it’s making it worse. And the tradeoff, especially given the current circumstances, makes 2020 the perfect year for an expanded playoff field. We the fans, the owners, and the players will benefit from the changes made on Thursday, and to me, if it’s a win for all three, then it’s probably not a bad idea. Regardless, it’s not as if this is a permanent alteration. The playoff field will return to 10 teams next season, and if the players enjoy the expansion this year, they can always use it as a bargaining chip during CBA talks next offseason. 

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