Third wild card creates opportunity for another playoff team
The Philadelphia Phillies grabbed baseball’s last playoff ticket on Monday, and Bryce Harper and company partied into the night. “ We’re in! We did it! We did it! ” slugger Rhys Hoskins yelled as the celebration kicked into high gear.
It’s the first playoff appearance for Philly since 2011, and no one seemed to care that it arrived via one of three NL wild cards.
It’s the first year for the majors’ new playoff format — part of the negotiations that resulted in the March labor deal that ended a 99-day lockout. Each league has three wild cards, taking the postseason field from 10 to 12 teams.
Philadelphia clinched its spot after Seattle secured an AL wild card on Friday night for its first playoff berth in 21 years. The other wild-card teams are Toronto and Tampa Bay in the AL, and San Diego and the NL East runner-up in the NL.
“For us it was to end the drought so it gave us an extra opportunity,” Mariners infielder Ty France said. “But I think it’s a cool, cool structure they have and setup they have.”
The new-look October has erased some of the usual tension from the final few days of the regular season. But there is still valuable positioning at stake for the playoff teams.
The top two division winners in each league get first-round byes, and the remaining four qualifiers play best-of-three series in the wild-card round on three consecutive days. The third division winner is the highest seed in that group, with other clubs sorted by their records. The top seeds in each matchup host the entire series.
Gone are the days of the win-or-go-home wild-card games in each league.
“It has felt as a wild-card team, just to play one game and have an entire season come down to one game, never felt right,” said Chris Antonetti, the president of baseball operations for the Cleveland Guardians. “So having some additional games in the wild-card round makes sense.”
The playoffs expanded to 16 teams for the pandemic-delayed 2020 season as part of an agreement between Major League Baseball and the players’ union. But the field went back down to 10 when the majors played a full season last year.
Looking for more TV revenue, Major League Baseball proposed 14 playoff teams during the recent labor talks. But it settled on 12 after the players resisted.
“It’s not worth it, understanding the reasoning is TV money, and that doesn’t make sense for the guys that are playing,” said New York Yankees reliever Zack Britton, who serves on the union’s executive subcommittee. “We know exactly what teams would do if you continue to add more and more teams to the playoffs. There’s no incentive to win.”
It is hard to tell if the 12-team format had any effect on the postseason race. The Guardians, champions of the mediocre AL Central, are the only playoff team that didn’t make multiple deals in the runup to the trade deadline.
“I think that it’s kept more teams in it,” Tampa Bay manager Kevin Cash said. “And you talk about rebuilds or teams getting aggressive with getting young players up, too. I feel like it stayed very competitive. If it has changed, it’s been a positive.”
Going for its first playoff appearance since 2016, Baltimore brought up touted prospect Gunnar Henderson on Aug. 31. The New York Mets promoted catcher Francisco Álvarez from the minors on Sept. 30, giving their top prospect a chance during a pennant race.
The Orioles would have made a 14-team playoff field, along with the Brewers in the NL. Depending on the results in the final days of the season, a 14-team field might have included every big league team that finished above .500.
“I think that would have been too many teams,” Mariners pitcher Robbie Ray said. “You don’t want teams that are limping in with close to a .500 record. I think still you should still be close to 90 wins to be able to get in.”
AP Baseball Writer Ronald Blum, and AP Sports Writers Tim Booth, Kristie Rieken and Tom Withers contributed to this report.
Jay Cohen can be reached at https://twitter.com/jcohenap
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