Postseason expansion leaves Red Sox no excuse for failing to qualify
It’s easier than ever for the Boston Red Sox to make the postseason
Major League Baseball and the MLB Players Association reached a new collective bargaining agreement that includes several changes that will impact the Boston Red Sox. One item that will be beneficial to this franchise is the revised playoff format.
The revised structure expands the postseason to 12 teams with six qualifying in each league. The teams with the best overall record in their respective leagues get the No. 1 seed and division-winners with the league’s second-best record will be the No. 2 seed. Those top two seeds get a bye through the first round of the playoffs.
The division-winner with the lowest winning percentage in each league clinches the No. 3 seed. The three best teams in each league who did not win their division will earn the No. 4-6 seeds in order of winning percentage.
The addition of one more playoff team in each league increases the odds of potential contenders qualifying. This is particularly relevant to teams in the loaded AL East. Last season, the Tampa Bay Rays won an AL-high 100 games to clinch the division while the Red Sox and New York Yankees tied with 92 wins. Boston received home-field advantage in the Wild Card game based on a tiebreaker and went on to defeat the Yankees.
Meanwhile, the Toronto Blue Jays finished one game behind Boston and New York. It was the first time in MLB history that four teams from the same division won 90+ games. Under the previous postseason format, a 91-win Blue Jays team missed the playoffs. The revised format would have allowed Toronto to join as the No. 6 seed.
Competing in MLB’s deepest division was a potential disadvantage for the Red Sox. The margin of error was slim enough last year that one more series going Toronto’s way could have made the difference between Boston’s exciting postseason run and sitting at home in October. Now all four AL East powerhouses can potentially qualify for the postseason.
Playoff expansion doesn’t only favor this division. The Seattle Mariners were in the mix down to the wire with 90 wins and the 86-win Oakland A’s would have been right there with them if they hadn’t stumbled down the stretch. MVP Shohei Ohtani could have marched his Los Angeles Angels into the postseason if superstar teammate Mike Trout hadn’t missed most of the season with an injury. Competition in the AL will still be fierce.
The Red Sox have no excuse for missing out on the postseason though. They had to fight to the end to clinch a spot on the final day of the 2021 season but the additional playoff teams will give them some welcomed breathing room.
Boston should also be a better team this year with a full season of Chris Sale and a deeper pitching staff. The Red Sox didn’t have the services of Kyle Schwarber until about mid-August last year. Whether they re-sign the All-Star slugger or acquire a suitable replacement, Boston’s lineup will benefit from an upgrade that they didn’t have for the majority of last season. Top prospect Triston Casas is expected to make his debut in the near future, further lengthening the Red Sox lineup.
One caveat to our high expectations is that the new format wouldn’t have made a difference for any Red Sox club that missed the playoffs over the last decade.
Boston fell short by one game in 2011 in the wake of the infamous September collapse. MLB added a second Wild Card spot the following season which proved to be one year too late for Boston. The Red Sox sunk to the bottom of the division in 2012, but bounced back to win the World Series the following year. That championship season was followed by a pair of last-place finishes when a pair of high-priced free-agents turned into colossal busts. The Red Sox won three straight division titles from 2016-2018 but wouldn’t have qualified for the playoffs in either of the next two years even if the 12-team format had been introduced by that point.
Most of those disappointing seasons that ended without a trip to the postseason were the result of circumstances that shouldn’t be relevant to this year’s team. A clubhouse mutiny against Bobby Valentine. Injury-ravaged rosters. A blockbuster trade that sent the face of the franchise away in a salary dump. Those were all disasters of their own making but the franchise is much more stable under the guidance of Chaim Bloom and the clubhouse leadership of Alex Cora.
Boston was already in a strong position to return to the postseason in 2022. Expansion that adds another playoff team in each league only improves their chances to the extent that missing the postseason would almost be an unfathomable outcome for the Red Sox.