One of the themes that comes up here at the start of the 2023 MLB season is the overall dominance of the AL East. This has caused many to question whether to change the playoff format and also start looking forward to a possible realignment.
As noted in this week’s power rankings, the entire division is essentially playing like the best team in baseball. The current current record for AL East teams when not playing each other is an absurd 99-49. The five teams are collectively playing as a 108 win non-division team. Ridiculous.
Those victories have to come from somewhere, and the ripple effect ended up leaving the AL Central looking pretty terrible. only the Twins they have a winning record and are exactly .500 out of their division. The division as a whole has a pathetic 32 games under .500.
It’s too early in the season to start closely monitoring the playoff position in the standings every day, but for the purposes of this discussion, here’s what the AL playoffs would currently look like in terms of standings:
1. good heavens (American League East champion)
2. Forest ranger (AL West Champion)
3. Twins (American League Central champion)
However, if we were to rank everyone by win percentage, this is what it would look like:
1. Rays, 32-12, .727
2. Orioles, 28-15, .651
3. Rangers, 26-17, .605
4. Blue Jays, 25-18, .581
5. Astros, 24-19, .558
6. yankees25-20, .556
t7. red sox24-20, .545
t7. Twins, 24-20, .545
The Red Sox and Twins played a series against each other and the Red Sox won two of three, which means that with the use of tiebreakers, the Twins entered essentially eighth place in the American League on Thursday if we were to lose divisions. And yet they would hold the third seed right now by virtue of being the best team in the worst division in baseball.
If things continued exactly like this (hint: they won’t), the Yankees will have been knocked out of a playoff spot, while the Red Sox would also have a big complaint. After all, the AL East has five of the seven best records in the league.
Since the schedule is more balanced these days, we’re bound to see things like this crop up when there are weaker and stronger splits just based on ebbs and roster building rosters. It’s not new to have a situation where the divisional lineup sets up things that feel unfair. The 2015 National League Central had the top three records in baseball. Two of them had to face each other in the Wild Card Game with the winner getting to see the division champion in the NLDS, meaning there was no chance two of baseball’s top three teams would make it to the LCS round simply. based on playoff format. Remember the 1993 National League West? He giants he won 103 games and didn’t even make the playoffs.
Those are just two extreme examples of many over the years. We could go on and on. It has happened over and over again.
Still, today, fans and the media like to discuss what changes need to be made to make things more fair and the leagues then try to rectify such perceived injustices. It’s not lost on me that this discussion will only get hotter the longer the Yankees and Red Sox are the two teams in the positions they are (as opposed to, say, the Orioles and Rays).
The simple answer to the cries that the Yankees and Red Sox will possibly be knocked out of a playoff spot by format is simply that they should finish in the top three in their division. Or, more succinctly: Be better and win more games. If people want to change the format, it shouldn’t be because of specific teams being left out, but rather to improve the way the playoffs play out as a whole.
And while I’m not sure there’s an actual problem, if we wanted to discuss “solutions”, here they are.
1. Eliminate divisions
I’m a resounding “no” on this one, but I’ve seen some movement on it. The theory here would be that the schedule is now much more balanced and that makes the divisions less important. As such, if there were no divisions and just two 15-team leagues, we’d have a better idea of which teams were the best and most deserving of the playoffs.
The biggest problem here is that the schedule is only “more balanced” and not 100% balanced. With 30 teams playing 162-game schedules, it’s never going to be even and if a schedule needs to focus on one area, I like how they’ve established the potential for regional rivalries to emerge. Even if they change (hold that thought), I still think divisions are needed for the programming part.
2. Go for the best record for playoff qualifying
Look back at the second set of rankings I listed, which was basically the ranking for the American League as a whole. If we ignore the divisions and just take the top six teams, which actually seems like a good idea in a meritocracy, that’s the way it would be right now.
The problem here is that if you’re going to have divisions, you’re possibly ignoring the division winner for the playoffs. If that’s the case, why even have divisions in the first place? That puts us back in the first option to eliminate divisions.
This is where I will point out again that we have survived divisive injustices many times in the past and we will survive them again. I’m not about to rule out divisions entirely or just ignore them in the playoff standings because two high-profile teams failed to finish in the top three in the best division.
I have been asked several times in the last few weeks about the realignment. The problem is that I don’t know how it is possible to realign the divisions at the moment. Placement in the American and National leagues, respectively, was fairly arbitrary, but many have come to hold their favorite team’s league sacred. I don’t want to mess with that, not in the entire MLB. The divisions are already set up regionally within each league, so how would we realign?
Are we trying to get teams into the “correct” position to make the playoffs look “fair”? How would that work in the future? Do we just shuffle the teams before each season based on how good we think they’ll be and try to spread them out into something like two playoff teams, one fringe contender, and two sub-par teams per division? Are we going to do that every year or even review it every three? I know it sounds outlandish, but I put it like this to make a point. To me, most of the conversation around realignment is a reaction to what the AL standings look like right now.
It’s hard to see anything in this area being realistic right now.
Still, here is the correct answer:
4. Stay the course for now
Right now, nothing changes. Again, divisional inequalities have been going on since the divisions were implemented. It’s just part of the deal. We will end up with good teams being left out and the victory of 87 Phillies win the National League despite finishing 14 games behind two different teams in their own division in the regular season. These things happen. Sometimes that’s what makes it fun.
Now for those yearning for change: I predict that things will end up changing at some point in the relatively near future.
Commissioner Rob Manfred has made it clear that MLB He won’t be looking for big changes until the A’s and Rays ballpark issues are resolved. He The A’s seem to be moving towards a conclusion.. The Rays’ lease for Tropicana Field with St. Petersburg runs through 2027 and talks have been ongoing, so let’s assume things are settled by then.
Once things are firm with new stadiums for both teams, the general assumption is that Major League Baseball will expand by two teams.
The expansion to 32 teams means it’s easy to go with two 16-team leagues and four divisions of four in each league. Or maybe they’ll go with larger divisions than eight (I doubt it, but it’s possible).
There is your realignment.
Until then, everyone worried about one or two AL East teams with a winning record missing out on the postseason will have to, frankly, just accept it and deal with it. We have survived such, be aware of the dripping sarcasm, parodies in the past and we will survive this time too.
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