Ronald Acuna stares off after a Braves playoff loss.
Photo by Kevin D. Liles/Atlanta Braves/Getty Images

Don't Blame MLB's Playoff Format for Top Teams Choking

The three best teams in baseball this season all exited the MLB playoffs early, but the new postseason format shouldn't be to blame.

Two of the top seeds in this year's Major League Baseball playoffs were unceremoniously swept out of the Divisional Series by, according to the regular season standings, significantly inferior opponents. And on Thursday night, the Atlanta Braves — the best regular season team in baseball with the best offense — were sent home by the Philadelphia Phillies. 

The AL East champion Baltimore Orioles, with an American League-best 101 victories, were beaten in three games by the Texas Rangers (90-72), who emerged from a Wild Card round in which all four series ended with 2-0 sweeps.

On the NL side, the sixth-seeded Arizona Diamondbacks (84-78) beat the bag out of Clayton Kershaw in their NLDS opener on their way to a three-game sweep of the mighty Dodgers, who won 100-plus games for the third straight year and hold the longest active playoff streak in professional sports at 11 straight seasons.

Now, fans and media members are crying foul and claiming that the new postseason format, which added an extra wild card team and replaced the one-game Wild Card round with a best-of-three series, is unfair to the best teams who apparently deserve to be ushered directly into the Championship series.

The argument, if you can call it one, is that the No. 1 and No. 2 seeds in each league are being "forced" to take five days off before they open their playoff run, and they aren't able to shake off the rust in time to slow down the momentum of the teams coming off of adrenaline-surging victories in the best-of-three Wild Card series. 

Spare me.

The bye is a privilege earned by the best teams in the league, not an excuse for failing to back up your regular season with a representative effort in the playoffs. A No. 1 seed getting swept in the Divisional series is an indictment of the team's preparation, mindset and investment, not an indictment of the playoff format. 

Nobody says you can't pick up a bat and ball during your well-deserved bye. Teams should be staying loose, playing simulated games or intrasquad scrimmages and reviewing film and (sigh) analytics of their potential opponents. If they're not ready to go once the LDS rolls around, that's on them.

Maybe these teams just weren't ready for the moment, or maybe they are postseason chokers. 

Prior to 2021, there was a one-game Wild Card playoff before the divisional series started the next day. The Dodgers made just three World Series and won one in 11 years. 

Baltimore was making their first playoff appearance in seven years after finishing as much as 61 games back over that time-period. They haven't won a playoff game since 2014. Maybe that's the rust they needed to knock off, not the five days they had to recover from this season.

Let's also point out that only half of the teams have been affected by this unfair rule. The Houston Astros beat Minnesota in four games to reach the ALCS, and the Atlanta Braves have went back and forth with the Phillies despite being the No. 1 seed and getting to rest and line up their pitchers.

Yes, the Braves, Dodgers and Orioles — the only teams to eclipse 100 wins this season — may not be moving on, but it isn't the format's fault.

Manfred: Too Early To Tell Whether Format Needs Changing

Rob Manfred looks on before a playoff game in Arlington.

Photo by Ron Jenkins/MLB Photos via Getty Images)

MLB commissioner Rob Manfred said it's a bit early to tell whether this playoff format is best.

"It's only Year 2," Manfred said, via ESPN. "I'm sort of of the view you need to give something a chance to work out. I know some of the higher-seeded teams didn't win. I think if you think about where some of those teams were, there are other explanations than a five-day layoff. But I think we'll reevaluate in the offseason like we always do and think about if we have the format right."

One thing's for sure, managers of those top teams don't seem pleased with the five days of rest.

"I don't think that five days is ideal, but that's the playoff structure," Dodgers manager Dave Roberts told the Associated Press. "The world's not perfect. A couple-day break would have been nice. But five's a little ..."

Added Orioles manager Brandon Hyde, via CBS Sports: "I don't know if it's a disadvantage, but it puts you in a different routine than you are during regular season and what you're used to. That's something we're aware of and need to adapt to."

In 2022, the Astros swept Seattle as the No. 1 seed and the Yankees got past Cleveland. Both the Mariners and Guardians were flying high, coming off of two-game sweeps in their Wild Card win. Houston and New York were sleeping in their own beds and waiting patiently for their opponent. 

The top-seed in the NL was the Dodgers, who lost in four games to San Diego. As we've established, maybe the Dodgers are just choking dogs, whether they have to take five days off or not. Kershaw has not been great in the postseason. He has an ERA of 4.49 and a 13-13 record over 39 appearances. The Diamondbacks ripped his face off and chased him from the game after just a third of an inning on Saturday. 

These are big leaguers whose biggest dream is to win the World Series. If they are shutting it down at the end of the season because they have a week off, that's on them too. You can't expect to just be able to turn it back on when it's time for the Divisional Series to start up, especially if you are getting away from your fitness, nutrition, workout and focus regimens. 

If the players and the teams handle their business the right way, before having to dive into a month of the most grueling, important baseball games they will play all year, those five days are a blessing.

Don't blame the break. You earned the break, not the excuse.

MORE: MLB's 2023 Regular Season Was Its Fastest in 40 Years