As if the 2020 MLB season couldn’t look any more different than a normal campaign, MLB and the players union reportedly agreed Thursday to an expanded playoff format that will increase the field from the typical 10-team bracket to a 16-team field.
According to USA TODAY’s Bob Nightengale, the Wild Card Games will be tossed out in favor of a best-of-three first round that includes all 16 teams. The top two teams in each division will qualify for the playoffs followed by the best two remaining clubs in each league rounding out the field. In the first round, the No. 1 seeds will each take on the No. 8 seeds, No. 2 vs. No. 7, etc. The eight teams that emerge from the best-of-three series will then proceed with the normal postseason format.
That’s good news for the Nationals, who faced a tough road to defending their World Series title this season under the normal format. Washington was set to compete against three other competitive NL East teams for the top spot in the division while a third of its schedule pitted them against the balanced AL East. Now, more than half the teams in the sport will be eligible for the playoffs by season’s end.
Not only will the expanded number of teams qualifying for the playoffs help the Nationals, but the format is conducive to the way their roster is constructed. In a three-game series, no club can trot out a better trio of starting pitchers than the Nationals. With Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg and Patrick Corbin each taking the mound, opposing hitters will get few breaks when it comes to favorable pitching matchups. If their bullpen takes the step forward that’s expected of them this season, the Nationals could be one of the most dangerous teams in the field.
Of course, the lineup will have to produce as well. The Nationals don’t have the look of a team that scores in bunches following the departure of Anthony Rendon last offseason. Instead, they will rely on steady production up and down their batting order to put runs on the board. Now without star leftfielder Juan Soto for the foreseeable future, the pressure will be on other key cogs such as Trea Turner and Starlin Castro to help Washington get off to a hot start.
Every game is still going to carry more weight than it does in a regular season, but an expanded playoff still bodes well for the Nationals should MLB be able to safely carry out a season all the way through October.
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