Very few things are clear regarding the future of baseball right now. The owners instituted a lockout with the hopes of speeding up CBA negotiations, however both sides still seem very far apart.
Through reporters there does seem to be at least two things that at this point can be assumed to happen, or at least have a very strong potential of occurring. The first is universal DH and the second is expanded playoffs. Currently, both sides have proposed additional playoffs team, the disagreement comes with how many.
According to reports, the owners want 14 teams in the playoffs whereas the players have proposed 12 teams.
The push for expanded playoffs boils down to one thing: Money. More playoff teams will lead to larger revenues. Another idea is that with more teams in the hunt for October baseball, it could possibly result in larger crowds at games during the regular season as well as more teams looking to compete, avoiding lengthy rebuilds and tanking, a major point of emphasis for the players.
The negative, as we know, is that baseball is a funny game. In 2021 the Atlanta Braves had the worst record of any playoff team but ended up winning the World Series. If playoff expansion happens, especially to 14 teams, it is very likely that a .500 team gets to keep playing in October. To me, the potential idea of a .500 or below team knocking off a division winner sounds unsettling.
Let’s take a look at how expanded playoffs would have impacted the fate of the Brewers franchise since the year 2000.
Yes, I know the Brewers struggled mightily in the earlier 2000s. However, with expanded playoffs there would have been a bit more hope and optimism with a few of those teams.
The 2005 Brewers finished 81-81 and tied for the eighth best record in the NL. Had the playoff field consisted of 14 teams, the Crew would have been chasing the Marlins and Mets for the seventh seed. Both teams finished with just two more wins than the Brewers.
Similar to 2005, the 2007 Brewers finished eighth in the National League with a record of 83-79. Ahead of the Crew that year was the Braves who finished 84-78.
While neither the 2005 or 2007 Brewers would have been playoff teams, even with an expansion to 14 teams, the city might have been buzzing with how close they would have come to playing October baseball.
Next we will look at instances where the Brewers would have made the playoffs with both a 14 and 12 team expansion.
In 2011 the Brewers won the NL Central and made a deep postseason run. They returned a lot of the core in 2012, but struggled to win games early on. At the All-Star break they found themselves five games under .500. By the trade deadline, they were in an even deeper hole and ended up being sellers. Perhaps the biggest trade made was parting ways with Zack Greinke.
Post-trade deadline, the Brewers started winning and finished with a record above .500 at 83-79. Despite this, they were truly never in the playoff hunt. The Reds won the division that year with 97 wins and the Cardinals were the wild card team with 88 wins. It was too little too late with that playoff format, but with a 14 team field, they would have made it as the seventh seed.
Next up is the 2014 Brewers, who finished the year with an 82-80 record. At that time they were six games behind the Pirates and Giants. With expanded playoffs they would have made it as the six seed. That collapse at the end of the season wouldn’t have been as catastrophic and a rebuild may not have begun in earnest the next season if they made the playoffs.
To take this a step further, if there were 14 teams in the playoffs, the 79-83 Mets or Braves would have been the last team to make the playoffs.
Last is the 2017 Brewers. Yes, this is the team that fell just short of the playoffs and our hearts were broke when they were eliminated on game 161. 2017 also was the first year in which the Brewers were buyers at the trade deadline again and acquired Anthony Swarzak and Jeremy Jeffress. At 86-76, this Brewers squad would have been the sixth seed in the playoffs.
In summary, expanded playoffs of either 12 or 14 teams would have resulted in three additional postseason chances for the Brewers. This is not an outrageous number, but imagining the 2014 Brewers in the postseason is a hard concept to grasp given how poorly they performed down the stretch that year.
The reality is, if playoff expansion occurs then there will be more teams in the hunt and fewer teams likely to sell off and rebuild. It’s something that will impact game in many facets and is likely in our future.