Entering the first day of the MLB divisional round on Saturday, Oct. 7, three 100-win teams were looking to begin their road to the 2023 World Series after each having one of the most successful seasons in their respective franchise’s history.
The Atlanta Braves’ elite lineup tied the single-season team home run record with 307 round trippers, the Baltimore Orioles recorded their most wins since 1979 (101), and the Los Angeles Dodgers clinched the National League West for the 10th time in the last 11 years.
All three of these dominant, record-setting squads lost Game 1 of their respective divisional series.
The Braves, who had been shut out only twice in 2023, squeaked out a measly five singles in a 3–0 loss to the Philadelphia Phillies, last season’s NL Champions and owners of this year’s top NL wildcard position.
The Orioles, whose young core lacks playoff experience, also learned that five hits isn’t enough in a 3–2 loss to the American League’s second wildcard team, the Texas Rangers.
The Dodgers were done for within the game’s first 30 minutes, as future Hall of Fame lefty Clayton Kershaw suffered the shortest start of his entire career. The NL’s third wildcard team, the Arizona Diamondbacks, led 9–0 after just two innings.
In the age of social media and fast content, the teams with larger numbers next to their name are more attractive to the average sports fan than the overall makeup of their rosters.
The MLB postseason has always been less about the records and the statistics and more about simply finding a way in [the postseason]. If a team can find a way into the playoffs, anything can happen from that point forward.
Before the 2022 baseball season, teams were gifted an additional opportunity to find a way in.
MLB added a third wildcard spot in both leagues, increasing the total number of playoff teams from 10 to 12. Such a small increase has already worked wonders for the baseball landscape.
The Los Angeles Angels were just four games back of the third AL wildcard spot near midnight on July 26 when they finalized a series of trades over the next four days for pitchers Lucas Giolito and Reynaldo Lopez, first baseman C.J. Cron, and outfielder Randal Grichuk.
Headlines in Anaheim went from wondering where generational two-way player Shohei Ohtani would play post-trade deadline to the Angels potential playoff push after acquiring arguably four of the top players on the market at the time.
The Angels proceeded to lose 19 games in August, ultimately falling out of the playoff race and waiving the impact players acquired at the trade deadline.
Failed playoff push aside, there was belief in Anaheim that the Angels would find a way in. Angels fans had a reason to care when, in years prior, transactions like this may not have happened.
The Miami Marlins were in the thick of a wildcard race with five other NL squads when their game against the New York Mets at Citi Field on Tuesday, Sept. 26 was postponed due to a wet playing surface.
No big deal. MLB games get postponed all the time, as 22 teams play in uncovered venues.
On Sept. 26, however, it was hardly raining at all and the Mets grounds crew had all day Tuesday to prepare the field for action. They reportedly forgot to tarp the field the Saturday prior.
By the time they tarped the field, Queens, NY had already taken on a lot of rainfall.
This coupled with another game suspended in the ninth inning due to rain just two nights later meant Miami had to shake up their starting rotation’s rest cycle, fill several innings with relievers and play on four consecutive days to close the season all while chasing after the additional wildcard spot.
In many previous playoff races, this would’ve been a non-issue. With more teams now factored into the homestretch of the season, the consequences for minor errors have been escalated to extreme heights.
The Angels and Marlins are only two of several examples. A third wildcard spot has given a reason to care for cities like Seattle, Cincinnati, Chicago, Arizona, San Francisco, Toronto, San Diego and many more.
Expect even the most minor inconveniences to make for some of the most thrilling playoff races in the coming years.