Expanded MLB playoffs: What should Cubs and Sox fans think?

Seven teams per league would increase Chicago's chances of watching our teams in October. But watching and winning the World Series are two very different things. Be careful what you wish for.

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Last night
No games

Bulls at Wizards (6 pm, NBC Sports Chicago)
Thank god for small favors. Last game in nine days for the Bulls.

Hawks at Oilers (8 pm, NBC Sports Chicago+)
Connor McDavid is questionable for the Oilers.

Michigan State at #22 Illinois (8 pm, ESPN)
The Illini are ranked, the Spartans are not. We’ve entered the bizarro world.

The baseball world fell into a tizzy on Monday night when Joel Sherman of the New York Post reported that Major League Baseball is planning to completely upend its playoff system.

The basics:

  1. The playoff field would be expanded from five to seven teams per league as early as the 2022 season.
  2. The top team in each league would get a bye for the first round, while the remaining six teams would face off in a best-of-3 series played at the home of the team with the better record.
  3. Once that round is over, the top team would get the choice of its opponent, a twist MLB believes will make for an intriguing selection show.

MLB could package with that selection show with the high-leverage best-of-three series in an upcoming TV rights deal. So if you wanted to join me in believing this is all about increased rights fees and not actually saving baseball, neither of us would be wrong.

But the initial reception to the baseball part of this was, uh, not good. Trevor Bauer even called the commissioner a joke on Twitter.

The two most common objections to this are that the plan would somehow cheapen both the regular season and the playoffs. It would also expose those second and third teams — both division winners — to being easily eliminated in a short anything-can-happen series by a team hovering around or even below .500.

What’s more, it’s unclear what problem that baseball is trying to fix. When people complain about baseball, they talk about the pace of play, “stars” that can walk down Michigan Avenue without being bothered and the price of taking your family to a game.

The playoff format? That never comes up. It actually might be the one thing in baseball that doesn’t need fixing.

You know what sport needs help with its playoff? College football. Maybe Rob Manfred can offer his help there.

Anyway, because this is a Chicago sports newsletter, I have to ask what all of this means for the Cubs and White Sox.

Maybe some of you might be OK with this plan. After all, Chicago baseball teams were never really a fixture in October before this last run by the Cubs and anything that widens the door for our underachieving squads and distracts us from the disappointment of the Bears for a few more weeks isn’t a bad thing.

I also get that many of you won’t be watching the baseball playoffs if the Cubs and Sox aren’t playing. You’d rather watch a longshot Chicago team roll the dice against much better teams in October than preserve the current system.

This would be a dynamic that works 30 markets over. Baseball has become such a parochial sport that maybe MLB isn’t misguided in including as many cities as possible.

But watching our teams for a few fall nights and actually seeing them through to a World Series are two different things.

Which is why I hate this.

Let’s take the White Sox, for example. It finally looks like they’re on the doorstep of something good after wandering through the wilderness for the last 15 years. Let’s say they finally win their first division title in 12 years this fall but finish with fewer wins than the Yankees. Now you’re going to take their window and affix each postseason with the booby traps of these gimmick three-game series?

No thanks.

Now let’s take the Cubs run we just witnessed. Let’s say that Jason Kipnis gets ahold of one of those Aroldis Chapman sliders in Game 7, the Indians won the World Series and the Cubs nightmare would have continued.

That would have been absolutely crushing — the worst loss in Cubs’ history — but the window was still going to be open, right? Well, sure, except for the fact that this new system would’ve had the Cubs needing to win four series each fall instead of three because 2016 was the only year they had the best record in the NL. *Only* three series victories were needed from 2017-2019 and we all know how they turned out.

(For all of those who want to argue that maybe the Cubs and Sox could be on the other side and sneak their way to a title with an inferior team, when’s the last time that ever happened on either side of town? The 2019 Cubs could’ve been the seventh team in last fall … do you really think that team was willing itself to another 13 wins?)

Look, the math in baseball simple. More teams equals a decreased chance at winning the title. This isn’t college basketball where a 1 will roll over a 16 most of the time or the NBA where you can pencil in LeBron or the Warriors into the finals for four straight years. This is baseball, where the gap between great and good teams can change by the day and anyone’s postseason can be blown up in 48 hours.

So would you rather limit the amount of hurdles a good Cubs or Sox team has to face after those all-too-rare division-winning seasons?

Or would you rather give the underachieving Cubs and Sox teams less than a puncher’s chance in a postseason they didn’t really earn?

For me, the answer is an easy one.

More Cubs showed up in Mesa on Monday with Brandon Morrow serving as the story of the day. The reliever hasn’t pitched since 2018 and was signed this offseason to a prove-it minor league deal. “So far, so good,” Morrow said. (We’ve heard that before.)

• Mark Gonzales of the Tribune reports that Tyler Chatwood is the leader for the fifth starter spot with Alec Mills and Colin Rea getting opportunities, according to pitching coach Tommy Hottovy.

A lot of White Sox are also in place in Glendale. Daryl Van Schouwen of the Sun-Times reports that all the pitchers have arrived as well as Yoan Moncada, Nick Madrigal, Tim Anderson and Adam Engel. First full squad workout isn’t until next Monday.

• Philip Rivers and the Chargers officially parted ways after 16 years on Monday so Papa Bolt will become a free agent next month. That obviously opens the door for plenty of Rivers-to-the-Bears talk, but how realistic is that signing? Most places have Rivers landing in Tampa. Cody Benjamin of CBS Sports has the Bears ranked as the third most likely landing spot while Conor Orr of Sports Illustrated thinks it’s a longshot.  (My take: An aging Rivers isn’t worth the financial gamble that he’ll be able to deliver the Bears to a place Mitchell Trubisky can’t.)

“In Trubisky we trust,” says Prince Amukamura, a good teammate who will never be accused of coming up with popular t-shirt slogans. (TMZ)

• The margin for Ryan Pace will be slim in April. According to Tankathon, the Bears have the fifth-worst collection of capital in the NFL draft. (NBC Sports Chicago)

• My old colleague Henry Bushnell thinks the new MLB playoff plan is so great that the NBA should also pursue implementing a version of it. (Yahoo Sports)

Jon Greenberg on the sorry state of the Bulls as the All-Star Game comes to town:
“The Bulls are down to 10th in the NBA in attendance at 18,887 per game. Worse, they are 23rd in average capacity at 90.3, which is in the neighborhood of small-market franchises like Orlando and Memphis … The Bulls are being ignored by national TV and the league at large. They are an afterthought nationally and a punchline at home.” (The Athletic)

• Scottie Pippen has cut the price of his Highland Park home to an amount that’s just one percent more than what he paid for it in 2004. (Crain’s)

• Non-Chicago good read of the day: Matt Norlander on the relationship between Kobe Bryant and a mid-major college basketball coach. The kicker of the story is incredible so make sure you read all the way to the end. (CBS Sports)

• You get to pick one item from that wall. What are you taking?

• You’re not alone if it’s been a minute since you’ve thought about Ed Lynch. After 40 years in the game, the former Cubs GM is now working as a realtor in Arizona — for a guy he cut from the Cubs 20 years ago. Good human interest piece from Bob Nightengale. (USA Today)

• If you want first pick of Cubs tickets at Miller Park, today is the day to call in a favor to your friend from Wisconsin. (Tribune)

• Like legal marijuana, the brilliant synergy of the Girl Scouts setting up shop outside a dispensary has also made its way to Illinois. (Block Club Chicago)

Thank you again for your support. Keep spreading the word. See you back here on Wednesday morning.