Moller: The legitimacy of a 60 game season
Nate Moller | Wednesday, August 26, 2020
It’s the question all baseball fans are asking: Can a 60-game season with an expanded postseason really show us who the best team in baseball is? It’s a complicated question, and I don’t believe the answer is a clear yes or no.
The decision by MLB to expand the postseason to eight teams per league — it’s usually five — definitely makes it more likely that every good team will make the playoffs. However, it also can be a huge disadvantage to the top teams in baseball because there are more chances for them to mess up in the playoffs.
For example, let’s say the best team in baseball is playing the eighth seed in the first round of the 2020 playoffs. Even if they have around a 70% chance of winning each game, there is still around a 20 to 25% chance they lose the series because it is only three games. Also if the eighth-seeded team has one or two good pitchers, it is much more likely for the better team to lose.
This new playoff model not only affects the best teams, but it gives very bad teams a very realistic chance of making the playoffs. Consider a team like the Baltimore Orioles. Going into the season, nearly everyone just assumed they would be one of the worst teams in baseball. Around halfway through the season, however, the Orioles are hovering around the .500 mark and looking like they could have the potential of making the playoffs in the expanded field.
As of Aug. 24, the Orioles’ record was 14-14. In a normal year, people would turn a blind eye on a bad team starting with this record. However, in a 60-game season, the fact that the Orioles have kept this record through over nearly half of the season is significant. In fact, if you weigh each game of this 60-game season as 2.7 games (converts to 162 games), the Orioles’ record is around 38-38.
My point here is that each game is much more significant this year and early season records are much more important. If the Orioles had started last season with a 38-38 record, people would have taken notice. Compounding this with the expanded playoffs gives supposedly bad teams like the Orioles a very realistic shot at the postseason.
The other factor that needs to be taken into consideration during this 60-game season is COVID-19. There have already been numerous breakouts with the Marlins and Cardinals being the most notable so far. This can have a huge impact on a team because it affects the health of players, causes complicated scheduling issues and can limit a team’s roster significantly.
Surprisingly, the Marlins were able to win five games after not playing for a couple of weeks, but they will still face huge scheduling issues, and it will be questionable if they can get to 60 games. The Cardinals were put in a worse position than the Marlins, as they missed over two weeks of the season and had only played five games before they resumed play two weeks ago. Is it very realistic for the Cardinals to make up over 10 games in a season that will be over in around five weeks? That sounds pretty challenging to me. It is surprising that the Cardinals have been pretty successful after being quarantined, as they have played over .500 ball since returning. Although the sample size with the Marlins and Cardinals is small, it might show that extended time off may not be as detrimental to team performance as one might think.
More recently, the Cincinnati Reds and New York Mets have had at least one COVID-19 case on their teams. These teams, however, appeared to control the spread of the virus and were able to resume play quickly. This is a promising sign that teams have learned from the Cardinals and Marlins and are beginning to take better precautions against the virus.
I think it is very likely that whoever wins the 2020 World Series will be one of the better teams in baseball. However, I don’t necessarily believe this year’s champion would have won the World Series in a normal 162-game regular season.
Just look at the 2019 Washington Nationals. A few months into the season, many considered the Nationals to be dead in the water, with little chance of even making the postseason. Obviously, though, the Nationals turned it around down the stretch, and they were one of the hottest teams at the beginning of last year’s postseason. They were then able to ride that momentum all the way to a World Series title. The Nationals were so bad during the beginning of the season, in fact, that their record of 27-33 would not have gotten them into the playoffs even with the expanded playoff model if the season had ended at the point. This shows that while it may be unlikely that one of the best teams in baseball doesn’t make the playoffs this year with the expanded model, it is definitely a serious possibility.
Even if the Nationals were a couple of games better — let’s say 31-29 — would they really have challenged for a World Series title? I think it’s unlikely, considering they didn’t find their groove until late in the season.
It should be noted, too, that the Nationals this year are slumping similarly to last year and, as of Tuesday, have a record of 11-15. If the Nationals want to even make the postseason, they will have to pick up steam quickly. Although most people did not anticipate the Nationals to defend their title, they were definitely one of the contenders in the National League heading into this truncated season.
One last issue with the season is that teams are only playing other teams in their geographical regions. This means playing in a bad division can be a huge advantage. When I think about teams that benefit from this, I look at those in both Central divisions. These teams avoid playing the Yankees, Dodgers, Rays, A’s and Astros and instead get to feast off bottom feeders such as the Royals, Tigers and Pirates to help their records. Playing worse teams will make it easier to have a good record and earn one of the two wild cards in each league. It will also help with seeding come playoff time. Although home-field advantage in the playoffs will not be as crucial this year without fans, there is definitely an advantage to knowing your home ballpark.
There are obviously a lot of flaws with a 60 game season and expanded playoffs. While the winner of this year’s World Series might be discredited due to the craziness surrounding the season, their title should not hold less value than a normal year. While the champion might benefit from some of the flaws listed above, it takes a lot to play successful baseball in the midst of the pandemic. Therefore, the 2020 World Series Champion should go down in the record books as any other World Series winner, and they should be able to celebrate it with their fans accordingly once the pandemic is over.
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.