sport news MLB's greatest postseason ever? New playoff format offers wild best-of-three ... trends now

sport news MLB's greatest postseason ever? New playoff format offers wild best-of-three ... trends now
sport news MLB's greatest postseason ever? New playoff format offers wild best-of-three ... trends now

sport news MLB's greatest postseason ever? New playoff format offers wild best-of-three ... trends now

The bracket is set and the new expanded MLB playoffs are ready for their first run, with 12 teams vying to hoist the Commissioner’s Trophy in what could become the greatest postseason in baseball history.

The reformatted playoffs not only rewards the top two teams in each league with first-round byes – the National League’s Los Angeles Dodgers and Atlanta Braves, as well as the American League’s Houston Astros and New York Yankees – but it also offers the same three-game wildcard series that proved so popular with fans at the end of the pandemic-shortened 2020 season.

Perhaps best of all, the World Series picture includes an 111-win team, the Dodgers, and three other 100-win clubs: the Astros, Braves and New York Mets. So even if an underdog sneaks through to the Divisional round, several of the best regular-season clubs in recent memory will still be around to play for the pennant.

As a result of the strike-delayed start to the season, the World Series will finish in November - with Game 7 set for November 5, which would be the latest date an MLB game has ever been played.

Here, Sportsmail looks at why each team can - and can’t - dream of World Series glory. Teams are ranked in order of their playoff seedings.

The Toronto Blue Jays celebrate clinching a playoff spot after the win against the Boston Red Sox at Rogers Centre on September 30

The Toronto Blue Jays celebrate clinching a playoff spot after the win against the Boston Red Sox at Rogers Centre on September 30

Toronto Blue Jays pitcher Jordan Romano (68) and catcher Danny Jansen (9) celebrate the win against the Boston Red Sox at Rogers Centre

Toronto Blue Jays pitcher Jordan Romano (68) and catcher Danny Jansen (9) celebrate the win against the Boston Red Sox at Rogers Centre

hiladelphia Phillies' Matt Vierling, left, and Alec Bohm celebrate after Vierling hit a game-winning RBI-single against Toronto Blue Jays pitcher Adam Cimber during the 10th inning of a baseball game, Wednesday

hiladelphia Phillies' Matt Vierling, left, and Alec Bohm celebrate after Vierling hit a game-winning RBI-single against Toronto Blue Jays pitcher Adam Cimber during the 10th inning of a baseball game, Wednesday

AMERICAN LEAGUE

1. HOUSTON ASTROS (106-56, won AL West)

Why they'll win it all: Is it possible to underrate a 106-win team? As the most hated team in the sport it is hard to find people willing to give them too much credit, but this is a winning machine and - by virtue of a relatively easy path to the World Series - could well be the favourite. Only the Dodgers allowed fewer runs this season than the Astros, who have six excellent starters battling for four spots in the rotation. The lineup has recovered from the loss of Carlos Correa and George Springer, mostly thanks to a monster year from Yordan Alvarez, and put up a fourth 100-win season in the last six years.

Why they'll fall short: The bottom of the lineup remains a concern. Yuli Gurriel and Martin Maldonado have been two of the easiest outs in baseball this year and there's very little help coming from the bench, as the mid-season acquisition of Trey Mancini did not pan out as Houston had hoped. That said, if these are your team's only concerns heading into October, you're in a pretty good spot.

Houston Astros players celebrate in the clubhouse after clinching the AL West title after defeating the Tampa Bay Rays during a baseball game Monday, September 19

Houston Astros players celebrate in the clubhouse after clinching the AL West title after defeating the Tampa Bay Rays during a baseball game Monday, September 19

Aaron Judge hit an AL-record 62 home runs this season, but a World Series ring would top that

Aaron Judge hit an AL-record 62 home runs this season, but a World Series ring would top that

2. NEW YORK YANKEES (99-63, won AL East)

Why they'll win it all: You may have heard, but Aaron Judge hit 62 home runs this season. Sixty-two! His second half statistics alone (29 home runs in 68 games, batting .349 with a 1.286 OPS) are reason enough to fear the Yankees, and Giancarlo Stanton has found his power stroke at the right time, too. The rotation is improving by the day with Luis Severino back to join Gerrit Cole, Nestor Cortes and Jameson Taillon, and this is still one of the best bullpens in baseball - even if Aroldis Chapman makes it onto the postseason roster.

Why they'll fall short: The world champion 2000 Yankees will tell you exactly how little regular-season momentum counts for in the playoffs, but the fact remains that this year's team was a .500 ballclub after the All-Star Break, falling shy of 100 wins when in June they looked as though they might be headed for all-time records. Judge's OPS in the second half was double the rest of the roster combined, and that has to change if the Yankees are to end their 13-year title drought.

3. CLEVELAND GUARDIANS (92-70, won AL Central)

Why they'll win it all: The youngest team in baseball has a certain magic about it that's been irresistible all season. Manager Terry Francona is doing his best to bring back the 1980s with hit-and-runs, speed on the bases and - gasp - contact hitting. They had the fewest strikeouts of any lineup in baseball, and ground opponents down with their relentless approach.

Why they'll fall short: Of course, this isn't actually the 1980s anymore. Home runs are the order of the day, and Cleveland hit only 127 of them as a team in the regular season - second-last in front of only the lowly Detroit Tigers. Facing multiple high-velocity arms in a postseason series will seriously test their ability to string enough hits together if they aren't clearing the fence.

The Cleveland Guardians celebrate a win over the Kansas City Royals at Progressive Field

The Cleveland Guardians celebrate a win over the Kansas City Royals at Progressive Field

Toronto Blue Jays' Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and teammates celebrate clinching a wild-card playoff berth, after defeating the Boston Red Sox in a baseball game Friday, September 30

Toronto Blue Jays' Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and teammates celebrate clinching a wild-card playoff berth, after defeating the Boston Red Sox in a baseball game Friday, September 30 

4. TORONTO BLUE JAYS (92-70, 2nd in AL East)

Why they'll win it all: The Blue Jays lineup is pounding the baseball again, and the team pegged by many as the pre-season favourites for the AL pennant may just be peaking at the right time. They finished the season on a 22-11 run, and with the roof shut at Rogers Centre can claim the most raucous home support in baseball. That will be even more crucial this year with wildcard rounds being played entirely at the stadium of the higher-seeded team.

Why they'll fall short: This still feels like a Blue Jays team playing to their floor rather than their ceiling. Perhaps the bright lights of October will help them raise their game, but they were expected to lay waste to pitching staffs across the sport this season and never quite got there, resulting in manager Charlie Montoyo being fired in July and replaced by interim John Schneider. They played .622 baseball under Schneider in his first head coach role, but can he replicate that in the playoffs?

5. SEATTLE MARINERS (90-72, 2nd in AL West)

Why they'll win it all: What do they have to lose? Ending the longest active postseason drought in North American professional sports earns you quite a lot of credit, and there are no playoff scars to hold them back. There is more than enough talent here to make a serious run, including a rotation led by Robbie Ray and Luis Castillo, plus resurgent right fielder Mitch Haniger and the five-tool force of nature that is runaway AL Rookie of the Year favourite Julio Rodriguez.

Why they'll fall short: The other side of the coin to a lack of playoff baggage is a ballclub extremely experienced in October. Only nine members of the Mariners' 25-man roster have been to the postseason, and among position players the problem is particularly stark. Carlos Santana leads the way with 96 career postseason plate appearances, but the next most is Eugenio Suarez on 11, and they all came with no fans in the stands in 2020. On the road first up in the Rogers Centre cauldron, can the Mariners handle the spotlight?

Seattle Mariners starting pitcher Marco Gonzales, left, and starting pitcher George Kirby, right, celebrate on the field following a 2-1 victory against the Oakland Athletics to clinch a wild card playoff berth

Seattle Mariners starting pitcher Marco Gonzales, left, and starting pitcher George Kirby, right, celebrate on the field following a 2-1 victory against the Oakland Athletics to clinch a wild card playoff berth

Seattle Mariners third baseman Eugenio Suarez (front row, left), second baseman Adam Frazier (front row, middle) and center fielder Julio Rodriguez (front row, right) celebrate in the clubhouse following a 2-1 victory against the Oakland Athletics to clinch a wild card playoff berth at T-Mobile Park

Seattle Mariners third baseman Eugenio Suarez (front row, left), second baseman Adam Frazier (front row, middle) and center fielder Julio Rodriguez (front row, right) celebrate in the clubhouse following a 2-1 victory against the Oakland Athletics to clinch

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