While we were preparing to watch the Washington Nationals and New York Yankees play five innings of baseball in the 2020 Major League Baseball season opener on Thursday night, MLB and the MLB Players Association were making last-minute adjustments to the postseason.
Now 16 of the league’s 30 teams will play in October, and, as New York Times’ writer Tyler Kepner wrote, there will be, “... eight best-of-three matchups (four in each league), before the usual best-of-five division series, and best-of-seven league championship and World Series rounds.”
“This season will be a sprint to a new format that will allow more fans to experience playoff baseball,” MLB commissioner Rob Manfred said in a statement announcing the postseason expansion. “We look forward to a memorable postseason concluding a year like no other.”
How will it work? Via ESPN News:
“In each league, the division winners will be seeded 1-3, the second-place teams 4-6 and the teams with the next two best records 7-8. The first-round pairings will be 1 versus 8, 2-7, 3-6 and 4-5.”
Goodbye for now, Wild Cards. How will the seeding be decided?
“Tiebreaker games will be eliminated, with ties broken by head-to-head record, followed by better record within a team’s division and record in the last 20 games within the division. If there is still a tie, the standard would be last 21 games within a division, then 22, etc.”
“It’s a unique season, so it’s a different year,” Nationals’ GM Mike Rizzo told reporters as the final details were being ironed out on Thursday.
“We’re going to have to prepare differently for the regular season and the postseason. I think that if we’re in a position to be the No. 1 or the No. 8 seed, we’re going to take our chances, and we’re going to come out and give whoever we’re playing the toughest time that we can.
“In this unique situation,” Rizzo added, “I think that whatever the ground rules are and whatever the rules of the day are, we’re going to go and attack them and being the defending world champs, we’re going to try to go back-to-back, and that’s always our goal and our mantra is to try to, ‘Go 1-0 today.’ So that’s going to try to take us through this 60-game sprint, and then through this playoff process.”
Manager Davey Martinez’s club won the World Series after earning a Wild Card berth last season, and though it worked out in the end, the division title was always the goal, and is again in this year’s abbreviated season.
“For me, you want to try to win this division and be the top-tier team,” Martinez said after Game 1 of 60 on Thursday.
“So we’re going to try to win as many games as possible, get in, and see how this all plays out.
“But we want to be one of the top teams. We want to play every game to win every game, and we’ll see what happens at the end.”
Rizzo has talked often in the past about trying to construct 90-win teams and then seeing what happens.
“You strive to put together a team that you feel can compete,” he explained back in 2016.
“We always strive for a 90-win caliber team, and then some years your 90-win caliber team wins 95, sometimes it wins 85, but the goal is to play meaningful games in September and October.”
How many wins does he think the Nationals will need in this year’s 60-game slate? You’re not going to get him to bite on that. Good try. 1-0 every day. 1-0.
It worked last year, after a 19-31 start, and the defending World Series champs are sticking with it.
“We went 1-0 all year,” Martinez said this past winter.
“The message is going to be clear: ‘Hey, we’re not going to sneak up on anybody this year, that’s for sure. So we’ve got to be ready to go from day one.’ With that being said, I want them to understand, ‘Hey, we’re going to do business like we’ve done in the past, and we’re just going to try to go 1-0 every day.’
“Why change something that works?”
“Win tonight, that’s our motto,” Rizzo said this week. “Win the game in front of you, and if you do that then you move on to the next night.
“That’s really going to be I think the way a lot of teams will approach it. If you got a chance to win tonight’s game you’re going to have to go for it, and as we have in the past, it’s a long season so you have to utilize players in a certain way.
“I think now, with the 60-game sprint, we’re going to have to attack this like an extended playoff, like a tournament, win each game you can, go 1-0 today, and we’ll worry about tomorrow tomorrow.”