An unusual post-season awaits MLB

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Luke Voit (59) of the New York Yankees celebrates with Gary Sanchez (24) after hitting his second 3-run home run of the game in the fifth inning against the Baltimore Orioles at Yankee Stadium on Sept. 11, 2020 in New York City. (Mike Stobe/Getty Images/TNS)

Cooper Sull

With the normal 162-game season abbreviated to 60, Commissioner Rob Manfred announced in late July that under the revised post-season format, half the teams in each league would qualify for the playoffs. However, while the field has been expanded to include four more teams than normal years, some teams favored early in the season are struggling to stay afloat and contend.

Last year’s World Series Champions, the Washington Nationals, currently hold the 13th spot in the National League, sitting five games behind No. 8 seed, Miami. Since losing eight of their last 10 games, the once World-Series favorite New York Yankees, have managed to win five straight, and now sit four and a half games ahead of Detroit and Seattle for the eighth seed in the American League.

In a shortened season, injuries to superstars have proved especially problematic for both the Nationals and Yankees.

Washington’s star right fielder Juan Soto missed the first eight games after testing positive for COVID-19. Worse yet, reigning World Series MVP, pitcher Stephen Strasburg, was placed on the 60-day injured list in mid-August with carpal tunnel neuritis after appearing in only two games.

New York has been without their best two hitters for much of the season. Giancarlo Stanton (hamstring) and Aaron Judge (calf) have only appeared in 14 and 18 games, respectively, to date. Manager Aaron Boone is hopeful that the two can return to play by the end of the week, but the timetable for starting pitcher James Paxton (left flexor strain) is cloudier, per MLB.com.

Are empty ballparks to blame for either teams’ mediocre seasons? The top-seeded Oakland A’s and Tampa Bay Rays are used to smaller crowd sizes and a lack of noise. The Rays have been dwelling among the bottom three teams in terms of total attendance over the last five seasons, and the A’s have been among the bottom five for four of their previous five seasons. Now, both teams sit atop their respective divisions.

Regardless of their familiarity, teams will continue to play without fans in the stands for the rest of the 2020 season. The MLB’s plan to host their postseason within a bubble-format was officially approved on Tuesday. 

The MLBPA negotiated on behalf of the players’ desire to continue to play at team’s home ball-parks to no avail. The bubble-plan was approved, allowing executives who were wary of COVID-19 outbreaks disrupting playoff games as they have with regular-season games on many occasions already, to exhale. Considering that neither the NHL nor the NBA has reported a single positive test within their bubbles, implementing such a format for MLB playoffs will likely prove to be a wise-decision. 

The plan was given approval by the Players Association on Tuesday. The two sides were able to come to agreement, in large part because of their mutual interst in the millions of dollars worth of television revenue that hangs in the balance of playoff baseball.  

Within their respective bubbles, the American and National League will be represented by eight seeds. The first through third seeds will be awarded to the division winners based on win-percentages, while seeds four through six will be each division’s runner-up, also based on win percentage. The final two seeds will be given to the best remaining teams as wildcards.

The first round of the playoffs will look different from years past. Seed No. 1 will play seed No. 8, seed No. 2 will play seed No. 7, and so on and so forth (as in traditional NBA or NHL playoffs) in best-of-three series. The higher-seeded team will host all games in the series. 

The winning teams will be reseeded after the first round and then travel to California (where AL teams will play at either San Diego’s PetCo Park or at Dodgers Stadium) or Texas (where NL teams will play at either Houston’s Minute Maid Park or in Arlington) for their divisional series. 

The AL Championship Series will then take place in San Diego while the NLCS will be held in Arlington.The two teams which win their league’s championship series will then meet in the World Series, set for Oct. 20-28 in Arlington.