We recently found out that the the MLBPA and the league came to an agreement to expand the playoffs for 2020. Under this new format, the top sixteen teams make the field. Sixteen!
Under the new format, the top team from each division is obviously the division winner, and then the second-place team is a wildcard. The final two wildcard spots in each league are issued based on overall record. Where you place is important for seeding though—division winners are guaranteed a top-three seed, and second place teams are guaranteed to be seeded 4-6, no matter your record. That means the second-best team in baseball could be a #4 seed, if the best team is in their division.
In practice, I’m pretty sure this virtually guarantees the Twins a playoff berth, barring the most epic meltdown since Three Mile Island. Since the top-two teams in the AL Central are getting in no matter what, the Twins, White Sox, and Spiders are basically battling not to be the odd-man-out. No matter how bizarre and fluky a 60-game season is, I just don’t see a path for Kansas City or Detroit to finish ahead of two of those three. If you do see that path, please share whatever you’re partaking in.
Just about any prediction method you use would have the Twins as the team to beat in the Central this year anyway, so I’m fairly sure there are no credible predictions that would place them third, but just in case, lets look at what that means.
In the AL East, you get three teams that are trying to win. The Yankees are likely to run away with that division, with Tampa and Toronto as the likely #2 and #3 teams. Boston is tanking and has about 1.5 actual major-league starting pitchers at this point. The Orioles are still competing to not be the worst team in baseball, and likely not winning that competition.
In the AL West, Houston is still dangerous, despite being much chastened (boy, trash-can-gate feels like a decade ago, huh.) The Angels are the best team that hasn’t done anything playoffs-wise. The Mariners, As, and Rangers will all have to contend with the gauntlet that is west coast baseball right now. All five of these teams have to play each other, and don’t get the respite of playing bad AL Central teams. They don’t even get to see bad interleague teams at the same rate as the Twins.
The Twins have one of the weakest schedules in baseball. Even if they fall flat on their faces, there is a pretty decent chance they can fall into a better record than a “better” team in the east or west. In other words, if you’re going to be a mediocre team this season, its much easier to do in the center of the country. Those last two Wild Card spots being based on an unbalanced overall record significantly helps the third-best team in the Central Division, at the expense of the third-best team in the East and West Divisions.
Overall, expanding the playoffs in a season with an unbalanced schedule will help the teams with the weakest schedules, which happen to be in the central divisions, and especially the AL Central. With two of the three contenders guaranteed a spot, and the third-place team in the division having a good shot at one of the final wild card spots, its going to be nearly impossible for the Twins to miss the playoffs. Either that, or you can point to this article as the jinx.