“It’s a different kind of year, it’s a shortened year, and I think it’d be a great way to keep fan bases engaged throughout the entire season,” Yelich told reporters. “If you had eight teams from each league making it, you’d have a really tight race all the way down to the last day of the season. I think there would be a lot of teams in it, within a game or two, all the way down to the last day.”
Manager Joe Girardi of the Philadelphia Phillies — who have not reached the playoffs since 2011 — said the expanded field made sense because it would follow an unusual regular-season schedule in which teams did not play outside their geographic regions.
“I think what really every organization and team asks for is, if you’re going to have wild cards, there’s some fairness to it,” Girardi told reporters. “And with only East playing East, Central playing Central and West playing West, there’s no crossover. So we’re not going to see any teams in the National League besides the teams in our division. So I think it is fair.”
There is precedent for expanding the playoffs on a temporary basis. When a strike shut down the league for nearly two months in 1981, M.L.B. split the season into halves, doubling the playoff field from four to eight teams. The league reverted to a four-team playoff format in 1982 and did not stage another division series until 1995.
The new format increases the likelihood of a losing team making the playoffs. If the plan had been in place last season, for example, the American League field would have included the Yankees, Minnesota and Houston, who won their divisions; Tampa Bay, Cleveland and Oakland, who finished second; plus Boston and Texas. Under that scenario, the Texas Rangers (78-84) would have been the first losing team in the postseason since 1981, when Kansas City finished 50-53 overall but won the second-half title in its division.
Baseball has long had the most exclusive playoff field, but with 16 of 30 teams now qualifying, it now matches the N.B.A.’s usual setup. In the N.F.L., 14 of 32 teams make the playoffs, and 16 of 31 teams qualify in the N.H.L.