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    Monday, October 5, 2020

    The Annual Playoff Trivia Bonanza, 2020 Edition (Plus Thoughts on the Expanded Postseason)

    I wasn’t sure whether to do my annual playoff trivia article before or after the expanded, sixteen-team Wild Card round. I know it’s officially counted as one, but it still feels weird. Then again, I’m still not totally sold on the ten-team playoff structure, and think it could be improved

    And given that, you can probably tell that I am especially unhappy with Rob Manfred’s desires to keep expanded playoffs around into 2021 and beyond. I mean, obviously, if I think the current system still needs work, I would want them to focus on fixing that before moving on to bigger and better things. 

    But it does go beyond that as well. The MLB season is long for a reason: there is a lot of randomness in baseball, and it takes a lot of games to get to know who’s better. Expanding the playoffs makes sense in a shortened, 60-game season, given that World Series and Pennant winners aren’t even always winning through their first 60 games (last year’s champion the Nationals are an especially famous example, going 27-33 in their first 60, but even going back another year adds the 2018 Dodgers, who were a mediocre 30-30 and in third place by that point). 

    Obviously, the World Series winner isn’t always the true “best” team, given the randomness and short series that finish out the year, but everything is a balancing act between reward and excitement. I already think five teams is pushing things a little too much, but if more teams start getting added, we’ll be regularly seeing some mediocre squads in October. And because baseball is much more random and the rounds the new format adds are shorter and shorter, there's a good chance that those mediocre teams go far. And this isn't even getting into how an expanded playoff picture would further disincentivize teams from acquiring good players and building solid rosters-why try for 95 wins when 85 wins gets you a ticket to the postseason, especially if it's at all similar to what those 95-win teams are getting.

    That was a long sidetrack, but I think you get the point. Anyway, in the end, I decided to wait until now and focus on the final eight teams, but I did at a small look at the expanded sixteen-team set as well. So with that all out of the way, let's look at this year's playoff trivia:


    It’s probably not too much of a surprise, but the average and median drought of teams in the playoff this year is a little lower than last year, but not too out of line with the previous two or three years.

    Year         Average     Median
    2020 24.25     24
    2019 25.7             26
    2018 24.5             24.5
    2017 28.3             25.5
    2016 39.9             31.5
    2015 37             29.5
    2014 23.9             27.5
    2013 24.2             23.5
    2012 22.1             22.5
    2011 19.375     12

    Granted, it’s not like this year’s batch of teams has been wildly successful. The A’s, Braves, and Dodgers are all sitting on winless streaks of twenty-five years or more, and the Rays haven’t won in their twenty-three years of existence. The Marlins, Yankees, and Astros are the only teams here with a title since 2000, and the Yankees and Marlins won theirs prior to the 2010s. 

    It’s just that usually, there’s more high-end droughts to pull these numbers up a little more. This year, it’s just the Padres repping the historic droughts. The Indians and Brewers had similarly long streaks going, but both were of course ousted in the Wild Card rounds. Those two getting knocked out were a big part of why the expanded, sixteen-team field had a slight advantage in overall drought length over the DS round.

    Year         Average     Median
    2020 27             26

    Of course, given the number of historic droughts that ended in the past decade (the Giants, Cubs, Astros, and Nationals all saw 50+-year droughts end in the 2010s, with the Cubs’ of course topping out at 107 years), we probably won’t see these numbers returning to their peak for several years. Right now, the only other team with an active drought of over 50 years (besides, Cleveland, Milwaukee, and San Diego) is the Texas Rangers, so there just aren’t as many permutations we can make to match, say, the 2015 or 2016 postseasons. The Pirates and Mariners will join those four before the decade’s end if they don’t win in the 2020s, and the Orioles and Tigers will be close to joining that mark, but it obviously isn’t quite where we were in 2010 or 2015. And even at the high-end, the Indians are still a decade and a half away from matching the Curse of the Bambino, let alone either Chicago team’s titleless streak. 

    Last World Series Win
    Padres: Never (founded 1969)
    Athletics: 1989
    Dodgers: 1988
    Braves: 1995
    Rays: Never (founded 1998)
    Marlins: 2003
    Yankees: 2009
    Astros: 2017


    Like normal, there will be a full Sporcle quiz about the Best Players by WAR without a World Series after the postseason is totally over. As such, I'll include a full accounting of players on the list playing this October later in this post as part of a separate spoiler section, and instead focus on the quantity of players on each remaining team here.

    This year's list includes fifty-seven players (plus a pair of internationally active ones), going all the way down to 110th place on Baseball-Reference's active leaderboard. The Nationals last year did an exceptional job of clearing out names on this list, and no one in 2020 quite measures up to that. However, every team does have at least one player who made it.

    One: Marlins, Padres, Rays
    Two: Astros, Athletics
    Three: Braves, Dodgers
    Four: Yankees

    And if you were wondering about the eight teams that were already knocked out, they broke down like this:

    Zero: Blue Jays
    One: Cardinals, Reds
    Two: Brewers, Twins
    Three: Cubs, White Sox
    Four: Indians


    Things looked pretty decent at the start of the expanded postseason, with six of the final sixteen teams being expansion franchises. But the newer teams had a pretty good showing in the Wild Card round, going 4-2 (with one of those two losses being the Blue Jays at the hands of the Rays). Between the Rays, Padres, Marlins, and Astros, we have a good chance at our third-ever all-expansion team World Series, following up on 2015 and 2019.

    Not only that, but the expansion teams are evenly distributed in the Division Series round, with each matchup pairing an original team with a new one (Braves-Marlins, Dodgers-Padres, Yankees-Rays, A’s-Astros). That means there’s also a decent chance of an all-expansion Championship Series. That’s happened a little more often than the World Series, but not much more. By my count, there are only five such instances: 1982 (Brewers-Angels), 1985, 2015 (both Royals-Blue Jays), 1986 (Mets-Astros), and 2007 (Rockies-Diamondbacks). Apparently, prior to the last half-decade, the mid-1980s were the prior golden age for expansion team playoff success.


    Every single remaining NL team has played the Yankees in the World Series. The Marlins and Padres have each only made the World Series twice, and they both have played the Yankees in one of them (1998 and 2003). The Yankees’ reach in this category is just incredible when you break it down: they’ve played all eight original NL teams at least twice, and four of the seven expansion teams. The only ones they haven’t played against in the World Series have a combined two NL Pennants between them (the Nationals and Rockies have one each, while the Brewers’ lone pennant is from their time as an AL team).

    So yeah, if you want a ton of new options in this category, your first option is always to root for the not-Yankees. But in spite of that, a majority of the remaining possible World Series matchups would be occurring for the first time. The Dodgers have faced everyone but the Rays, the Braves and A’s have faced the non-expansion teams, but everything else would be new. The only team the Rays have previously faced in the last round didn’t make the postseason this year, while the Marlins, Padres, and Astros are missing half of their former final foes (the non-Yankees and non-Dodgers opponents, obviously). 

    Technically, we could have seen some interesting pre-league swap World Series and Championship Series reunions (Astros-White Sox ALDS would have been a rematch of the 2005 series, Cardinals Brewers would have been the 1982 Series, Cardinals-Astros would have been the 2004 and 2005 NLCS), but all of those chances died in the Wild Card round. The Astros did play the Braves, Dodgers, and Padres in previous Division Series, though.

    Unique Matchups

    One Time
    Yankees-Marlins (2003)
    Yankees-Padres (1998)
    Athletics-Braves (1914)
    Astros-Dodgers (2017)

    Multiple Times
    Athletics-Dodgers (1974, 1988)
    Yankees-Braves (1957, 1958, 1996, 1999)
    Yankees-Dodgers (1941, 1947, 1949, 1952, 1953, 1955, 1956, 1963, 1977, 1978, 1981)


    The Eliminated Teams
    Blue Jays: none
    Cardinals: Paul Goldschmidt

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