DH Spreading to NL? Owners Want Quid Pro Quo

What does extending the designated hitter to the National League permanently have to do with also expanding the playoffs permanently?

The players want the universal DH — but why would they oppose expanding the playoffs, since doing so would mean more money for every player on every team that makes the playoffs?

And could a return to the "traditional" 154-game schedule be an unintended — or maybe semi-intended — consequence?

So, playing by this seemingly illogical set of rules and tying these three things together, this is what both the regular season and the playoffs in baseball in 2021 and beyond might look like:

A 154-game regular season, consisting of each team playing their four division rivals 19 times, same as previously (76 games), the 10 teams in the other two divisions within the same league six times each (60 games; prior to the recently-concluded season some of these teams played each other seven times, causing a fair degree of havoc), and 18 interleague games (down from the previous 20), with 15 games consisting of entire divisions being matched up on a rotating basis every three years, each team playing each other three times, and the familiar Mets/Yankees, Cubs/White Sox, Dodgers/Angels type matchups comprising the remaining three games, these teams playing each other six times instead of three in years when the NL East plays the AL East, the NL Central plays the AL Central, and the NL West plays the AL West, in the rotation.

For the playoffs, with teams playing the largest percentage of games within their divisions in the National League since 1992, and in the American League since 1978, the playoffs should be determined on a strictly divisional basis, and the owners compromising by accepting only an increase of the number of playoff teams to 12 when if they get their way it would be 14 if not 16 as it was this season, with the first- and second-place finishers in each division advancing to the playoffs.

And if a third-place team finishes with a better record than one or even both of the two second-place teams in the other divisions within the same league? Too bad: from 1969 through 1993, when each league had two divisions, and not counting strike-ravaged, split-season 1981 (when the Cincinnati Reds had the best overall record in the entire majors and didn't make the playoffs), there were 20 situations (eight in the National League and 12 in the American League) in which a second-place team from one division had a better record than the first-place team from the other division of the same league. That's 41.7% of the time — and the sky didn't fall.

With the regular season being shortened — and additional days shaved from the calendar length of the season by the elimination of the seven-game season series between teams in different divisions within the same league — the first round of the playoffs can be lengthened to best-of-three (the first round this past season was best-of-three), with the two division champions in each league with the best records getting protected from having to play in these series by receiving first-round byes. In many, if not most years, the division champion with the third best record will finish with a poorer record than at least one of the second-place teams in the other divisions, yet would still be guaranteed home-field advantage in the first round.

The division champion with the third best record and the second-place team with the best record would host Game 1 and, if necessary, Game 3 — and if the potential travel involved seems harsh, that's the idea, because it will increase the advantage accruing to the teams that earned the first-round byes.

After the first-round results are known, the division champion with the best record would be assured of playing the second-place survivor with the worst record in the best-of-five Division Series, or the lone second-place survivor if the division champion with the third best record does not get upset in the first round.

This of course is followed by the best-of-seven League Championship Series, and after that, the World Series, likewise best-of-seven.

Nineteen years after their football counterparts exploited 9/11 by pushing the Super Bowl into February for the first time ever — and once they saw that they could "get away with it," they made February Super Bowls a permanent fixture — baseball's owners are poised to exploit COVID-19 by increasing the number of teams that make the playoffs on a permanent basis.

But will the more traditionalist baseball fans — more than a few of whom wear the arguably pejorative "purist" label like a badge of honor — embrace the new order that the owners seem ready to shove down their throats?

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