Expanded MLB playoffs make sense in a shortened season -- here's what the format could look like

Major League Baseball has been shut down indefinitely due to the growing threat that is the coronavirus (COVID-19). We don't know when baseball will return, but we know it won't be until at least mid-May. 

Earlier this week our own Mike Axisa laid out nine questions MLB needs to answer before baseball is back. Among them was what to do with the playoffs -- and why it was fair to expand the postseason. We're here to examine that question further and take a look at different formats that could be used. 

To be clear, it might sound contradictory that a shortened season could mean expanded playoffs, but it's a way to recoup some of the lost revenue from a shortened regular season. More playoff games on TV helps the entire league while playoff home games means more gate revenue for the individual teams. The players would be probably OK with this, because it gives them more chances to play in October (or November? or December?). As for fans, while expanding the field waters things down a bit, this season is gonna be funky anyway, so more playoff games should be fun. 

Win-win-win? Sure! 

Here are some formats that could be used. We're going to hypothetically say that the 2020 regular season ends up being 100 games. I know the league wants more, but I'm trying to be realistic and I just can't see them ramping things up until around mid-June. I'll present each hypothetical format with what 2019 would've looked like in said format after 100 games (give or take a few games, because we almost never have all 30 teams with the same number of games). 

14-team postseason

This is the proposal Major League Baseball has on the table right now and wants to implement eventually. There would be four wild cards per league with the top division winners in both league getting byes to the divisional series round and a three-game series for each wild card round. Here's how this would've looked last year.

2019 - American League

Bye: Yankees

7. Red Sox at 2. Astros

6. Rays at 3. Twins

5. A's at 4. Indians

2019 - National League

Bye: Dodgers

7. Brewers at 2. Braves

6. Phillies at 3. Cubs

5. Cardinals at 4. Nationals

16-team postseason

It's a nice number, isn't it? No byes or anything involved, just a straight eight-team tournament per side. Would they really do a three-game series in the first round if this was the case? The chances of an eight seed knocking off a one in essentially the wild card round seem scary. Let's say they play a five-gamer each of the first two rounds before the seven-game LCS and World Series.

2019 - American League

1. Yankees vs. 8. Angels

4. Indians vs. 5. A's

3. Twins vs. 6. Rays

2. Astros vs. 7. Red Sox

2019 - National League

1. Dodgers vs. 8. Diamondbacks or Giants (they were both 50-50, so there would be a one-game playoff to get here)

4. Nationals vs. 5. Brewers

3. Cubs vs. 6. Cardinals

2. Braves vs. 7. Phillies 

20-team postseason

Well now we've gone and added another round. The 7-10 seeds would all need to play in that extra round. We'll say this works as a three-game series where the seventh and eighth seeds host and then is a five-game series once we get to a tidy eight teams before another five-game series in the divisional round before both LCS and then the seven-game Fall (Winter?) Classic. 

2019 - American League

1. Yankees vs. (8. Angels or 9. Rangers)

4. Indians vs. 5. A's

3. Twins vs. 6. Rays

2. Astros vs. (7. Red Sox or 10. White Sox)

2019 - National League

1. Dodgers vs. (8. Diamondbacks or 9. Giants)

4. Nationals vs. 5. Brewers

3. Cubs vs. 6. Cardinals

2. Braves vs. (7. Phillies or 10. Rockies vs. Padres)
*San Diego and Colorado were tied after 100 games, so they'd be playing a one-game tiebreaker to get the right to face the Phillies for a three-game series in Philadelphia. 

12 teams per league

Similar format to above, except we'd now have more of the three-game series for the right to get to the wild card round. The top four seeds have byes. 

2019 - American League

1. Yankees vs. (8. Angels or 9. Rangers)

4. Indians vs. (5. A's or 12. Blue Jays)

3. Twins vs. (6. Rays or 11. Mariners)

2. Astros vs. (7. Red Sox or 10. White Sox)

2019 - National League

1. Dodgers vs. (8. Diamondbacks or 9. Giants)

4. Nationals vs. (5. Brewers vs. 12. Reds or Mets)
*Cincinnati and New York had the same record after 100 games, so they'd play a one-game playoff to decide who gets to play in Milwaukee. 

3. Cubs vs. (6. Cardinals or 11. Padres)

2. Braves vs. (7. Phillies or 10. Rockies)


I don't think we can go any further than this. It would already be ridiculous to include 80 percent of the league in the postseason. For example, the Blue Jays were 38-62 through 100 games. Why should they get a three-game shot at the 58-42 A's? That's just too hard to swallow. Even at the 10-team format, the White Sox were 45-55 through 100 games and that's just not playoff worthy. 

For me, the best option is the eight-team format. I know it doesn't seem like the Angels and Diamondbacks or Giants should get a shot at the Yankees or Dodgers, respectively, but the top seed should pretty easily dispatch a far inferior team in a five-game series. 

That would be a ton of playoff baseball to watch, too, wouldn't it? There would be eight first-round series that could potentially go up to five games before we'd get to the divisional round. We'd probably need about six weeks. If we started the season in the middle of June, they could play 100 games and then run the playoffs through the second week of November. It's doable. Now let's hope something like this happens, because it would still salvage lots of fun in the 2020 baseball season. 

CBS Sports Writer

Matt Snyder has been a baseball writer with CBS Sports since 2011. A member of the BBWAA, he's now covered every World Series since 2010. The former Indiana University baseball player now lives on the... Full Bio

Our Latest Stories