Speaking of those extra teams, I feel like I should give my thoughts about the expanded format, seeing as I pretty regularly had strong thoughts about the 10-team playoff format. At this point, though, I would say that my feelings about it are mostly neutral.
On the one hand, the expansion of the playoffs at this point feels a little excessive. It’s been over 20 years since the last time the league expanded, the longest such drought going all the way back to the Angels and Senators-Rangers beginning back in 1961. The league doesn’t feel any larger, or like there was a need for a corresponding growth in the playoffs.
And as a result, we got lucky this year, with all of our Wild Card teams at least landing in the upper-80s in their win totals… But it’s practically inevitable that a year will come when the league is a little more balanced, with fewer tanking teams soaking up losses at the bottom of the divisions, and as a result, we’ll end up with teams that are barely .500 or worse making it to the postseason. I went back and looked at years prior to this (more on that in a bit), and it wasn’t hard to find years where mediocre teams would have snuck in, and even a few with outright losing teams.
And the continued devaluation of the postseason isn’t great; I think it clearly disincentivizes teams from going all-out to compete, especially in a sport as random as baseball. After all, why would you go out and sign that big star in free agency to a nine-figure deal when building a merely-competent 85-win team will still get you a spot in the October Lottery with barely worse odds?
All of that being said… this wasn’t exactly a surprise. There have been rumbles for a while now about expanding the playoffs yet again, and based on some of those rumors, there was real potential for things to be even worse (including some proposals from last winter’s CBA negotiations for a 14-team postseason, which I think would have definitely tipped things into “excessive” territory).
And if you told me to make a positive case for this new format that wasn’t “well, it could have been worse”... I’m actually surprised how easy it would be? I get the excitement of a one-game Wild Card Game, and while I could appreciate that, I ultimately think an actual series makes more sense. Baseball isn’t a “one-game” sport, and while I’d prefer a seven- or even five-game series, a three-game set at least prevents good teams from being sent home after a single loss.
My main complaint about the five-team format was that it was often unfair to the top Wild Card team, and in an unexpected twist, this new system has actually indirectly fixed that. As I pointed out several years ago, the top Wild Card is not only better on average than the worst division-winner, but they also played a more difficult schedule to get to that point. So at the very least, I think it makes a lot of sense to make them both play through the Wild Card round.
We’ll still occasionally run into the edge cases where the Wild Card has the second-best record in their league and get relegated to the best-of-3 round anyway, but at least it should be rarer than our former problem. And I suppose you could argue that it will look weird when a team with 100+ wins loses in the first round to a team in the high 80s (something that might even happen this year!), but at a certain point, that’s just a risk of having Wild Cards (and, more broadly, a playoff tournament in a sport as random as baseball). The three-game series (plus next year’s more-balanced schedule, which will hopefully address teams that cruise off of weak divisions) should help mitigate some of the worst, most noticeable problems in the old system, I think.
My only other concern is to wonder how much of a boon the bye is for the top two seeds; it feels like we’ve seen teams go cold after too much time off in past playoffs, but that might also be a case of confirmation bias, and I’m forgetting all of the times rest has helped a team. Either way, I’m sure after a few years, we’ll have a better sense of how this new system plays out.
With that out of the way, on to our normal trivia!
DROUGHTSAfter several years of dropping, we saw the average and median drought length of playoff teams bounce back. It’s still nowhere near the peaks we’ve seen, but a result near the middle beats the recent near-lows that we’ve been seeing.
It’s kind of impressive, considering how many recent winners are represented here. A full half of the twelve teams still playing have won it all in the past fifteen years, and yet we’re still looking at the midpoints being in the 20-25 year range. A big part of that is Cleveland, San Diego, and Seattle all making it, with those three representing the longest (73 seasons), third-longest (never, founded 1969), and fifth-longest (never, founded 1977) active droughts in the Majors. The Mets also fall in the top-third of the league, with their 35 years outlasting all but 8 other teams, and even the Blue Jays are nearing their third decade since their last title.
Of course, all of those teams are at risk to leave in the first round, so that does temper the expected drought-busting that can happen (especially since our top-four seeds include three of the last five champs). At least a lot of those titleless teams will be playing each other, so they can’t all leave in the Wild Card round, while the most recent champions in the Wild Card round (the Cardinals and Phillies) will play each other right away.
Of course, one thing that I wondered was whether the expanded playoffs had any effect on the potential for drought busting. So I went back and looked at every postseason of the Wild Card era (dating back to 1995) and looked how these numbers would compare in the 8-, 10-, and 12-team formats.
Long story short, it didn’t really matter. 12-team playoffs usually had the longest average and median droughts, thanks to the ability to occasionally sneak in an extra team with a really long streak, but the difference was rarely significant, and it was beaten by the other two formats over half the time.
It such a small sample size that one or two teams could dictate the entire thing (for example, the late-90s really favored bigger playoffs… because you could count on the Yankees and Braves dynasties to take two of the division slots; or the pre-2016 Cubs could swing entire things depending on whether they were a 4-seed or 5-seed, thanks to their century without a title). Consequently, this year really likes the 10-team format, because the two five seeds (San Diego and Seattle) are two of the three largest droughts we have.
PLAYERS WITHOUT A WORLD SERIESAs per another of my traditions, I have built the list that will serve as the basis for this year’s edition of my Best Active Players Without a World Series quiz. This year’s version covers a little past the top 100 active players, by Baseball-Reference’s version of Wins Above Replacement. That will be going up on Sporcle once the World Series is done and we know who all can be scratched off the list, with a link and small blurb going up here as well.
In the meantime, I’ll include a list of the players still in the running at the end of the article, so that anyone trying to avoid spoilers has an easier time avoiding it. But if you’d like to see which teams winning will take the most names out of consideration without names attached, here you go:
One: Astros, Braves, Guardians
Two: Padres, Rays
Three: Blue Jays, Cardinals
Four: Mariners, Mets
Five: Phillies, Yankees
TERRANCE GORE WATCHThis is a new idea I had in the final days of the regular season that serves as the inverse to the last section. As I mentioned last year, pinch runner extraordinaire Terrance Gore won his third World Series ring as part of the 2021 Braves (joining his titles with the 2015 Royals and 2020 Dodgers). That put him in extremely rarefied territory, as one of only 17 players to win a championship with three different franchises.
Gore returns to the playoffs this year, bringing his late-game specialties to the Mets in his search to become the first-ever playoff to win it all with four unique teams. But I had a question that required some digging to answer: is there anyone else this year looking to join him in three-peat land?
The short answer is no. I did a quick-and-dirty dive into Baseball-Reference’s Stathead search, and supplemented it with a lot of eyeball work, but according to my count, there are roughly 100 or so players going for their second (or more) World Series ring.* And of those 100-ish players, under 50 will be going for a ring on their second team.
*For the sake of completeness, I included anyone who played on the 2022 roster of a playoff team or the regular season roster of a past champion. So we’ll be including players who have since been dropped, which means that Sergio Romo (who played on all three recent Giants champions) can win his fourth title if either the Blue Jays or Mariners take it all, despite not having played in a Major League game since July. And Robinson Canó will pick up his second unique team from any of the Mets, Braves, or Padres winning (although not the Mariners).
That’s a lot of names to cover, especially since a lot of them are just bit players who made cameos on these teams. But, to cover some notable cases briefly:
- New Dodger Freddie Freeman will attempt to follow in the footsteps of teammate-turned-rival Joc Pederson and become the tenth player to win back-to-back titles on different teams. This also goes for Chris Martin (also Dodgers), and Johan Camargo (Phillies).
- Closers Kenley Jansen (Braves) and Craig Kimbrel (Dodgers) will be looking to seal the deal for their new teams. He’s been demoted from the role, and he’s not new to his team, but these two also make me think of Aroldis Chapman (Yankees), who also qualifies here.
- Former Nationals stars Max Scherzer (Mets), Juan Soto (Padres), and Trea Turner (Dodgers) will all be looking to repeat as well. It’s hard to believe Washington’s win was just three seasons ago, given how many players they’ve lost since then.
- For any of my readers from The Crawfish Boxes, 2018 Red Sock Christian Vázquez
and 2021 Brave Will Smith fit the bill on the Astros, while Collin McHugh (Braves), Marwin Gonzalez (Yankees), Chris Devenski (Phillies), Joe Musgrove (Padres), George Springer, and Teoscar Hernández (both Blue Jays) are all still looking for their second titles as well. Charlie Morton got his second last year, but stuck with Atlanta. And Ken Giles and J.D. Davis both saw time on playoff teams, but ended their seasons on the Giants, who missed the playoffs.
- Other notable names include Anthony Rizzo, Andrew Benintendi (both Yankees), Daniel Hudson (Dodgers), Kyle Schwarber, David Robertson (both Phillies), and Jackie Bradley Jr. (Blue Jays)
EXPANSION TEAMSJust in terms of sheer numbers, this postseason is looking extremely balanced between Original 16 teams and Expansion Teams; a full half of our dozen teams still playing are late-comers to the league. That would give us pretty good odds to see just our third-ever all-expansion team World Series, but as those who are familiar with this column might already realize, those chances aren’t quite as good as you might initially think.
The AL has four of our six expansion representatives, and at least one ALCS team is guaranteed to be an expansion team, as the winner of the Blue Jays-Mariners series will play the Astros in the ALDS (fun fact: the latter series will mark the first time MLB’s two 1977 expansion teams meet in the playoffs). But the Rays will need to upset both the Guardians and the Yankees to meet one of them there, which might be a tall order for a sixth seed that limped into the playoffs.
Meanwhile, the NL side looks downright unlikely. One of the Mets or Padres is guaranteed to lose in the first round, and the surviving team will need to knock out a 111-win Dodgers team that looks like a juggernaut. Granted, the path to our second All-Expansion World Series started in a similar manner, so nothing is impossible.
UNIQUE MATCHUPSOur expanded bracket this year means a full 36 potential World Series matchups, and the large number of expansion teams (plus Cleveland) means that over half of them are brand new. Of course, there’s also the potential to see the Yankees play the Dodgers for the dozenth time.
Among new matchups, the Mariners represent the largest source of them; as the last remaining team without a pennant to their name, any match-up they’re involved in is new. In contrast, every single potential matchup for the Yankees has occurred before, including against the Padres (who only have two pennants at all).
Every other AL competitor has faced exactly two potential NL pennant winners, even the Rays and Blue Jays (who both also have just two previous World Series appearances). In contrast, a full half of NL teams have only faced the Yankees: the Padres and Mets are expected, given their newer status, but the Cardinals are a surprise, given their long history and 19 World Series appearances. For whatever reason, St. Louis have a large number of repeat matchups among their pennants, and with no Red Sox, Tigers, or A’s (4x, 3x, and 2x, respectively), they have a lot of potential to meet a new team. Or, they could just run into the Yankees again, which has happened 5 times already (making it the third most frequent championship pairing, behind the Yankees-Dodgers and Yankees-Giants).
Here’s a full chart of which pairs have met up in October pasts, as well as a list of when the potential repeat World Series matchups have occurred:
Blue Jays-Phillies (1993)
Blue Jays-Braves (1992)
Yankees-Dodgers (1941, 1947, 1949, 1952, 1953, 1955, 1956, 1963, 1977, 1978, 1981)
Yankees-Cardinals (1926, 1928, 1942, 1943, 1964)
Yankees-Braves (1957, 1958, 1996, 1999)
Yankees-Phillies (1950, 2009)
Guardians-Braves (1948, 1995)
BEST PLAYERS WITHOUT A WORLD SERIES, BY TEAM (SPOILERS)Astros: Michael Brantley
Blue Jays: Matt Chapman, Hyun Jin Ryu, Kevin Gausman
Braves: Matt Olson
Cardinals: Paul Goldschmidt, Nolan Arenado, Jose Quintana
Guardians: Jose Ramirez
Mariners: Carlos Santana, Justin Upton, Eugenio Suarez, Luis Castillo
Mets: Jacob deGrom, Starling Marte, Francisco Lindor, Carlos Carrasco
Padres: Manny Machado, Yu Darvish
Phillies: Bryce Harper, Aaron Nola, J.T. Realmuto, Jean Segura, Zack Wheeler
Rays: Corey Kluber, Kevin Kiermaier
Yankees: Josh Donaldson, Giancarlo Stanton, Aaron Judge, Gerrit Cole, DJ LeMahieu
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