Already one of the favorites to make the American League playoff field, the Twins now appear to be a shoo-in for the postseason in 2020. This comes after Major League Baseball and the players’ association agreed to expand the playoffs from 10 to 16 teams hours before the coronavirus-delayed regular season opened Thursday night.
At this point, the expanded playoff format will be only for this season. The Twins, who won the AL Central title last season, will begin their 60-game regular season on Friday night against the White Sox in Chicago.
In the 10-team playoff format, there was a chance that even a small rough stretch could have cost the Twins either the American League Central title, or one of the two wild card spots available in the AL. The new format will send 16 of the 30 teams to a best-of-three first round. The first- and second-place team in every division will get in, as will the next two teams with the highest winning percentage in each league.
The winners of each first-round wild card series will advance to the Division Series, which will remain best-of-five. The League Championship Series will stay best-of-seven, as will the World Series. The first-place teams will be seeded 1-3 in each league and the second-place teams 4-6. The seven and eight seeds will be the teams with the next best records. The matchups will be 1-8, 2-7, 3-6 and 4-5. All first-round games will be hosted by the higher seed and will run from Tuesday, Sept. 29 through Friday, Oct. 2. Decisions on potential tiebreakers will be made at a later date.
While this change would make it far easier for teams to qualify for the playoffs — there almost certainly will be some sub-.500 teams in the postseason — the issue is that a three-game first round means a stronger team could get bounced in quick fashion. If the Twins win the AL Central and then have a rough two-game stretch their season would be finished. The drawback of being a wild card, and having to play in an elimination game, also is gone because every team that makes the playoffs now will be in a three-game series.
MLB has agreed to guarantee players a $50 million pool that will be distributed after each round and could increase if fans are allowed in stadiums for the postseason, according to ESPN.
There was talk of expanding the playoff format during negotiations between MLB and the players’ association this summer as they worked to reach an agreement on restarting the season. But when talks broke down, the union told commissioner Rob Manfred to announce a schedule and it appeared the hope for an expanded playoff was finished.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.