Just when you thought the 2020 MLB season couldn’t get any more weird, how about expanding the playoff field from 10 to 16 teams — on the night of the first regular-season game?
The league and players union agreed to the new format for this season only, meaning eight of the 15 teams in each league will make the postseason after the 60-game sprint that began Thursday.
Which teams benefit most from the 16-team format, which ones are hurt and is this a good thing? We asked three of our baseball experts — MLB reporters David Schoenfield and Bradford Doolittle, and editor Dan Mullen — to weigh in.
Wait, so what will the playoffs look like?
All first- and second-place teams in the six divisions qualify, with the division winners slotting in as each league’s top three seeds. In addition to the three second-place teams in each league, the seventh and eighth seeds will go to the remaining teams in each league with the best records. Tie-breakers will be set up so that no additional games will be necessary. Those details are still to be determined.
The first-round matchups will be best-of-three series with all three games played in the higher seed’s ballpark. From there, things pick up as usual, with the division round a best-of-five, and the league championship series and World Series both best-of-seven.
Which teams benefit the most from the new format?
Bradford Doolittle: 1. Bad teams that get lucky. 2. Mediocre teams that play mediocre. 3. Good teams that are unlucky, whether it’s by a spate of injuries or one-run losses.
David Schoenfield: Well, besides the teams that otherwise wouldn’t have made the playoffs, the team that jumps out to me is the Rays. While it’s not inconceivable that they can win the AL East, the most likely scenario is a second-place finish and what would have been relegation to the wild-card game — which no teams want. Now they can throw out Charlie Morton, Tyler Glasnow and Blake Snell in a short series — and no team will want to face that trio.
Dan Mullen: I see two distinct teams helped most by this format: 1) Offense-first teams with top-end talent that might not have the depth to win a division but have a few players who could get really hot and carry them in the playoffs, and 2) teams with a couple of aces who can get them into the postseason and then dominate in a format with even more winner-take-all showdowns.
And in the second, how about the Indians and Cardinals? Both teams have some serious starting pitching but weren’t locks to get to the postseason — and they just saw their odds of getting there improve greatly.
Which teams get hurt the most?
Doolittle: Elite teams. The teams best built to dominate just saw title probabilities already degraded by the short season further eroded by a format change.
Schoenfield: The Dodgers. More chances for Kenley Jansen to blow a crucial game in a short series or for Dave Roberts to bring Clayton Kershaw out of the bullpen instead. I kid, Dodgers fans, I kid! I would say the teams that would have ended up as the No. 1 seed in both leagues — with the Dodgers and Yankees the favorites to do that. In the old format, they would face the winner of the wild-card game in a best-of-five series, but that winner likely would have used its ace to move on (and maybe even used its No. 2 starter in relief, like the Nationals did with Stephen Strasburg in last year’s wild-card game). Now the No. 1 seed is more likely to face its opponent’s ace in the first game.
Mullen: The Big Three (Dodgers, Yankees, Astros). Remember when the Nationals got hot and beat the Dodgers and Astros last October? Remember when the Giants rode their pitching at the right time as a wild-card champion in 2014? Of course you do. Well now we’re adding even more teams that could get hot at the right time and knock the superteams out. This isn’t quite March Madness, but it could very well be an upset-filled October.
Gut reaction: Is this a good thing or a bad thing?
Doolittle: My brain and my suddenly uneasy gut both tell me that the one saving grace of the format is that all of baseball’s legitimate contenders should land a playoff slot. But the path for all of them to survive the bracket has become even more subsumed by randomness. Given the cluster of teams around the middle of the pack in baseball and the existing 10-team format, we were probably already going to have 20 to 25 teams hanging in the race into the last week. I don’t why we’d want more faux contenders than that. Oooo … it’s a red-hot race for the No. 8 seed between the 27-29 Reds and the 26-30 Mets!
Alas, as much as I hate the idea of expanded playoffs, I’m enough of a realist to understand why the chance to recover lost revenue is too much to pass up — for this season. It would be terrible for this format to remain in place for a normal, 162-game season.
Schoenfield: The wild-card game, while exciting, has always been a flawed way to determine moving on in the postseason — one and done in baseball is no way to treat a team that has sweated for 162 games to make the postseason and may not even get a home game. Maybe we go back to that (I hope not), but in this season it makes sense to experiment and let more teams in. I don’t know if a 16-team postseason — like the NBA and NHL have — is the future, but this will be a good test run to see if fans and players like it.
Mullen: This is a GOOD thing. It might feel like a bit of a scramble in 2020, but what doesn’t? Overall, adding more teams to the field means more excitement in October and more teams in the race for the majority of the season, which will boost interest in a lot of markets come September.
How does the playoff expansion to 16 teams affect the MLB betting markets?
We asked ESPN gambling expert Doug Kezirian to weigh in with his betting perspective here.
Kezirian: The most direct impact is felt by sportsbooks that offered Yes/No proposition bets on each MLB team to make the playoffs. Some books allowed bettors to wager on any team to either make or miss the playoffs. Clearly now, the “Yes” wagers have a stronger likelihood of hitting and the “No” wagers are less likely to cash. William Hill director of trading Nick Bogdanovich said those tickets are still valid because there was no fine print about a 10-team playoff format. That also applies for all division, pennant and World Series futures tickets across all sports books.
Once the report surfaced on Wednesday, some sportsbooks took down their future odds. This new expanded format could benefit some long shot tickets. With a dominant division winner now forced to win an extra series, their odds will now have a larger payout. It comes down to the basic premise of combined probability, so the Dodgers and Yankees have each moved from +350 World Series co-favorites to 4-1, given the added difficulty of winning a three-game series. This also opens the door for long shots to sneak into the playoffs and catch fire. The Diamondbacks (45-1 to 33-1), Padres (30-1 to 22-1), Giants (175-1 to 125-1) and Rockies (100-1 to 75-1) also saw their odds lowered.
Boxing fans who have struggled with a declining quality of pay-per-view cards in recent decades are in for a treat this weekend with a PPV doubleheader featuring the Charlo twins, Jermell and Jermall. Five of the six fights on Saturday night set to take place over the two separate cards will be contested for world championships, making this a night of boxing that no fan should want to miss.
The monumental Showtime Boxing event will kick off at 7 p.m. ET, featuring two three-fight cards separated by a 30-minute intermission.
In the first of the two headline fights, Jermell Charlo will battle Jeison Rosario in a super welterweight unification bout where one man will leave with the WBC, WBA and IBF titles. Meanwhile, feature bout of the two cards, Jermall Charlo will put his WBA middleweight championship on the line against a dangerous challenger in Sergiy Derevyanchenko.
CBS Sports will be with you throughout the week leading up to the pay-per-view with our complete guide to all the action below. Keep up with the latest storylines, news and updates as we approach fight night on Saturday. Odds below provided via William Hill Sportsbook.
Charlo vs. Rosario fight card, odds
Jermell Charlo (c) -380 vs. Jeison Rosario (c) +300, WBC, WBA, IBF super welterweight unification
Luis Nery vs. Aaron Alameda, vacant WBC super bantamweight championship
John Riel Casimero (c) vs. Duke Micah, WBO bantamweight championship
Virat Kohli – ‘Yuzvendra Chahal was the one who changed the game’
Royal Challengers Bangalore captain Virat Kohli reckoned Yuzvendra Chahal‘s final over was where the match turned in his side’s 10-run victory against Sunrisers Hyderabad in their IPL 2020 opener.
Sunrisers were 121 for 2, needing 43 to win from 30 balls with Jonny Bairstow batting on 61, but Chahal took two wickets in 16th over – Bairstow included – to swing the match his team’s way. Earlier, Chahal had also got Manish Pandey to end a 71-run stand for the second wicket, and he finished with 3 for 18 in four overs and the Man of the Match award.
“We kept our composure tonight,” Kohli told Star, the host broadcaster. “When they needed 43 I think off five, just had a chat in the middle saying ‘no shoulders dropping till the last run is scored. The game can change anytime.’ And Yuzi comes in, the strike bowler that he’s been for us, and changes the game completely in that over.
“Not many other spinners got too much out of the pitch, but tonight he showed that if you have skill in the wrist, you can purchase on any track,” Kohli added of the Dubai International Cricket Stadium pitch. “That’s why he bowls well in Bangalore too. The dew was a big factor tonight, the pitch was decent to bat on in the second half I thought – much better than the first half. But the way he came in, backed his skill and got the ball to turn and bowled attacking lines. He was the one who changed the game, in my opinion.”
Chahal had a different plan for each of the three wickets he got, and all of them worked out. “When I bowled to Pandey I had the cover fielder back, so maybe he thought I’ll bowl outside offstump.” Chahal explained. “But that ball, I bowled on the stumps.
“For Bairstow, I knew that we need his wicket that over to come back into the game, even if I go for runs. That’s why I bowled it a bit fuller, but a bit on the legside, because it is very hard to hit from there since the ball is turning. And when Vijay (Shankar) came, Virat bhaiyya and AB (de Villiers) sir, we had decided that the first ball I will bowl a googly.”
Kohli said that the way his side had not given up even when the equation was in the Sunrisers favour augured well for the season.
“In the past if we had 43 off five, you would probably see shoulders dropping. The fact that we didn’t let the negativity seep into the bowling group even when there was dew and it was difficult to bowl, the guys kept believing and kept bowling attacking areas. Someone like Shivam (Dube) coming in and bowling three proper overs was an outstanding sign for us… a part-timer coming and doing the job means the guys want the opportunity, they want to be in pressure situations. And that’s the kind of mindset we want to be in.”
The Royal Challengers total was built on half-centuries from debutant Devdutt Padikkal and AB de Villiers, and de Villiers admitted to having doubts about his form coming into the game without having played competitive cricket for months.
“I surprised myself to be honest,” he said of his 30-ball 51. “As a 36-year-old to come here, without having played a lot of cricket, you do doubt yourself. But we worked really hard the last four weeks as a team and individually as well to get myself in some kind of form. Tonight was a very pleasing start. Unfortunately got run out there at the end but I’m pretty happy with the basics that seem to be in place.”
Chiefs survive mistakes to register sloppy win over Chargers
KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The Kansas City Chiefs were nearly flawless in their Week 1 win over the Houston Texans. They proved Sunday they can win when things don’t go quite so smoothly.
The Chiefs were penalized 11 times for 90 yards, had a handful of dropped passes and struggled to get into any offensive rhythm until the second half of their 23-20 overtime victory over the Los Angeles Chargers on Sunday. They also made the kind of mental miscues that generally leave coach Andy Reid seething in his postgame news conference.
One of them occurred when wide receiver Mecole Hardman didn’t touch down a defensive player following an interception — it wound up being a moot point because of a penalty. Another came when wide receiver Tyreek Hill removed his helmet after a long touchdown reception for what should have been a penalty; he claimed it already was coming off.
“I would never take my helmet off,” Hill insisted. “When I’m on the field it’s my responsibility to always keep my helmet on. That’s one of Coach Reid’s biggest pet peeves, taking your helmet off after a touchdown.”
Regardless, all the miscues left Reid with this assessment: “We have to do better,” he said. “There are no excuses.”
Especially in an empty stadium. The Chiefs should have had no problem with communication with fans barred from Sofi Stadium for the Chargers’ debut in their new digs because of the coronavirus pandemic. But they still had costly holding and offsides penalties along with a roughing the passer penalty in the fourth quarter.
The Chiefs managed to overcome the mistakes, though, thanks to another starring turn from Patrick Mahomes, a couple of crucial grabs by his wide receivers and a defense that was pushed around the first half but suddenly showed up.
“Obviously, we didn’t play the way we wanted to play,” Mahomes said, “but to find a way to win, I think that when you get to the playoffs or when you get later in the season and you try to make a run, not every game is going to be a blowout.”
Harrison Butker gives the Chiefs the chance to score points any time they cross midfield. His two 58-yard field goals, which matched Nick Lowery’s franchise record, included the game-winner in overtime. Butker already has made 11 kicks of at least 50 yards in three-plus seasons; Lowery hit 20 of them from 1980-93. And he passed Pete Stoyanovich for sixth in franchise scoring with 445 points; next up is Hall of Famer Tony Gonzalez, who scored 462 points from 1997-2008.
“I mean, what can you say?” Reid said of Butker, who has hit a field goal in a Chiefs-record 16 straight games. “He’s a mentally tough kid and we appreciate him and how he goes about his job.”
WHAT NEEDS HELP
The secondary is woefully depleted. Bashaud Breeland is only halfway through his four-game suspension and fellow starter Charvarius Ward is still dealing with a fractured hand. Antonio Hamilton went down Sunday with a hamstring injury.
CB L’Jarius Sneed is looking like a fourth-round steal in last April’s draft. He’s been pressed into service because of injuries and suspensions and has risen to the occasion, picking off a pass in each of his first two games.
“That’s the reason why we went out and got him,” Chiefs defensive backs coach Sam Madison said. “He is able to run, he’s tall, he’s long and you look at our corners from last year, you know he just fit that mold.”
DT Chris Jones, who signed a four-year, $85 million deal in the offseason, was beaten regularly at the point of attack in the run game. He also was penalized for offside early in the game and roughing the passer on third down in the fourth quarter, giving the Chargers a first down and leading to a field goal that made it 20-17 with 2:30 left in the game.
RB Darrel Williams left with an ankle injury, DE Frank Clark was ill and WR Sammy Watkins took a blow to the head that drew Reid’s ire. “I thought it was questionable,” he said. “We’re not supposed to have those in our game here.”
28: That’s the number of wins the Chiefs have over the AFC West in their past 30 games.
Mahomes and the Chiefs visit Lamar Jackson and the Ravens in a matchup of 2-0 teams next Monday night. They were on a collision course in last year’s AFC playoffs before the Titans upset Baltimore in the divisional round. Kansas City then beat Tennessee in the conference title game before winning its first Super Bowl in 50 years.