MLB’s new 6-team playoff format explained and the benefits of the No. 3 seed

As the old saying goes, if it ain’t broke, Rob Manfred will break it.

While Major League Baseball’s previous playoff format included the controversial wild-card game, which usually meant at least one 90-win team would have its entire season in one game, it was also much more understandable than the new bracket.

Implemented after the lockout, the new playoff format features six teams from each league and killed the wild-card game in favor of a three-game wild-card series. While playing a best-of-3 series is a better way to determine a superior team than one game, it can also inadvertently hurt teams that win their division. Now, the top two teams in each league get a first-round bye, which is much more advantageous in other sports than in baseball. Instead of waiting just one game to see who their opponent is, the top two seeds could potentially have to sit out three games, perhaps disrupting their momentum.

If the Mets can hold off the Braves to win the National League East, they guarantee themselves a spot in the Division Series, which is still best of five. If they have to settle for a wild card spot, it means they have to win two games against the Phillies, Padres or Brewers before playing in an NLDS. For the Mets, losing the NL East would mean they would get the No. 4 seed, as their final record would have to be much better than the other teams competing for a wild card spot. While a wild card series means you get to play right away and don’t have to worry about a layoff messing with their time at the plate or general mojo in other aspects of the game, it also means you have to face the Dodgers in the NLDS.

The winner of the National League Central (it’s safe to assume it will be the Cardinals, who have a 7.5-game lead entering Tuesday’s game) is locked in at No. 3. The Dodgers and their historic win would put them at No. .1 seed and the winner of the NL East will have to have enough wins stacked up to finish second. That leaves the Cardinals — unless they can pull off a spectacular September streak for the second straight season — as the division winners with the worst record, meaning they’ll be third.

There is an argument that the third seed is the best. Doing so means playing the sixth seed in the wild-card round — and playing every game at home, since the higher seed has home-field advantage for every game — and then facing the No. 2 seed in the NLDS instead of the mighty Dodgers . The Dodgers will get the winner of Game No. 4-5 no matter what. Even if the sixth seed pulls off an upset, MLB has decided not to re-enter the next round. Think of it like an NCAA tournament bracket, where the matchups are staggered, allowing one team the potential luxury of an easier championship path if it meets an underdog winner instead of the favored team that drew the underdog.

So, if the Mets win their division and take the NL silver to the Dodgers’ gold, they will await the winner of the three-game series between the St. Louis and whichever wild card team has the worst record.

If Atlanta wins the division, the Mets suddenly find themselves in a three-game dogfight with the fifth seed, while the Braves relax. That likely means seeing the Phillies (a team the Mets beat 14-5 this year) or the Padres, to whom they’ve lost four of six. While any team that makes the playoffs is good, the rest of the NL contenders are likely hoping the Brewers can swing their way.

Sure, the Brewers have made the playoffs each of the last four years and have a formidable top of the rotation. They also scored just 11 runs in their last seven postseason games, only one of which ended in a win in Milwaukee. As a team, the Brew Crew ranks only slightly above average offensively this season as Christian Yelich’s slugging percentage continues to decline. Taking two out of three from the Brewers looks a lot less difficult than doing it against the Phillies or Padres, both of whom have far more star-studded lineups to match their top-line pitching.

In short, winning the division is the Mets’ best course of action. A first-round bye might be a little strange, but it’s certainly better than having to play their way into the NLDS, especially if said NLDS would be against the Dodgers.

Securing the NL East means wrapping up the No. 2 seed, not having to worry about an unusual three-game streak and not seeing the Dodgers until the NLCS. That gives them a much better chance of making the World Series than playing a wild-card series, even if the bye that comes with winning the division could allow the rust to show.

Taking a few days off in the October heat can always be a problem, but with this new format aiming to reward the best teams in each league, this could be a classic case of having a good problem.

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