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MLB expands playoffs in COVID-19 shortened season

Of all sports being played throughout 2020, none has faced quite the setback that the MLB. Teams were reporting to training camp in March when the league shut down after a unanimous vote between the MLB Players Association and the league’s front office. On July 1, the announcement went out of a modified season schedule, with the regular season being cut down from 162 regular-season games to 60. To account for this change in schedule, which could potentially knock out a team that would’ve otherwise rallied in the later regular-season games in a normal year, the league decided to expand their playoff brackets from 10 teams to 16 teams, with eight squads making it from both the American League and the National League.   


With the adjusted playoff bracket, the league has implemented qualifying conditions for the postseason; the three division winners, the three second-place teams in each division and two wild card teams will all make the playoffs in each league. These changes in the playoff format will stand to benefit teams that may have otherwise not made the postseason at all, providing a bigger fan base for postseason action.


A looming threat coming out of the American League, with their offseason acquisition of pitcher Gerrit Cole, one of the best pitchers in baseball, is the New York Yankees. Most people predicted the Yankees to be the top team in baseball this season, and trail perhaps only the Los Angeles Dodgers. The Yankees had one of the best teams in the league last season and were one game away from going to the World Series. After adding Cole in the offseason, their roster looks nearly flawless from top to bottom. Since the regular season kicked off on July 23, the Yankees have seen their ups and downs, starting off the season looking like a man amongst boys, but cooling off significantly as they dealt with a rash of injuries. The Yankees were teetering on a playoff spot, but have since rifled off nine wins in a row, giving them a stranglehold on a coveted spot. The Yankees trail the Tampa Bay Rays for the division by 3.5 games, with 10 games on their schedule remaining. They likely will not have enough time to catch up to the Rays for the first place position, but they can certainly ride their momentum into the playoffs.

One of the exciting things about the shortened season and expanded playoffs is getting to see younger teams catch fire and grab playoff spots, such as the Chicago White Sox, Oakland A’s, San Diego Padres, Miami Marlins, Cincinnati Reds, etc. This season got off to a disastrous beginning for the Marlins, as the entire team was forced into quarantine in their hotel rooms in Philadelphia following 18 players and staff members testing positive for COVID-19. After having the majority of their team get infected with COVID-19 and spreading it to some Philadelphia Phillies players, the Marlins season looked like it was all but over. However, the Marlins have rallied back and have tied with the Phillies for second place in their division, trailing the Atlanta Braves by three games. 


The week of Aug. 3, just a week after the Marlin’s outbreak, the St. Louis Cardinals allegedly had players that went to a casino and got infected there. There were numerous canceled games in just the first few weeks of the season, and there were reports that Rob Manfred had alerted networks that broadcasted games to prepare for the rest of the season being canceled. Since then, the MLB has done an excellent job of slowing down the spread and the players have been better adhering to social distancing practices in order to play the sport they love. Luckily, because of this the ship has been sailing much smoother since mid-August. 


One fan-favorite team that has caught the love of casual fans is the San Diego Padres, and in particular the young stud shortstop Fernando Tatis Jr. who has been an excellent young prospect brought up through the Padres’ farm system. They have been contending with the Los Angeles Dodgers for the National League West title for the majority of the season and look like a team that is ready to take on the next level in upcoming seasons. The regular season comes to completion on Sunday, Sept. 27, and it will be interesting to see what the final playoff picture looks like.

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