Why Cubs, other contenders could find best playoff answers in NCAA hoops


If Major League Baseball wants to solve the playoff-integrity issues that already are looming because of COVID-19-related schedule problems, the solution can be summed up in two words — and make the league a few extra bucks along the way.

Selection Sunday.

Not to determine every playoff qualifier. Maybe just half. And then to seed most of the expanded, 16-team field.

You got a better idea for how to reconcile winning percentages against the likelihood some teams will have played 15 to 20 percent more games than other teams during what’s already an absurdly short baseball season?

Click to download the MyTeams App for the latest Cubs news and analysis.

Entering play Wednesday, 18 of the 30 teams had played at least 17 games, thanks to two major coronavirus outbreaks in the first week of the season.

Three had played 12 or fewer. And 47 days remained in the season.

Most notably, the Marlins are a week of games behind most other teams after their coronavirus outbreak. The Cardinals — who have played only five games — already are two weeks behind and still haven’t been cleared to play again.

The earliest the Cards might resume play is Friday, and in that best-case scenario, they would have 45 days to play 55 games if they were to complete their season.

The questions already are piling up fast about the integrity of the season and the schedule. And the answers figure to impact the Cubs as much as any team, with their league-best records in both winning percentage and coronavirus testing.

  •  What happens to Major League Baseball if a third team has a major outbreak? “I don’t know,” Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer said, echoing many in the game.
  •  Just how few games are too few for a team to play and still have its winning percentage be credible enough for playoff consideration?
  • How many teams with fewer than 50 games — or even, say, 45 — are too many if most play their full 60-game schedules?
  • Can a team with too many COVID-19 cases be dropped from the league and the league still finish with 29 teams? Or 28?

“I don’t envy anyone making these decisions,” Hoyer said.

The only thing anybody knows for sure is that MLB has no intention of shutting down, or pausing the league, for anything short of extreme multiple-team spread of the virus or an otherwise grave consequence. Not with a nearly $1 billion payday waiting in October for postseason broadcast rights.

That much has been made clear by the “I’m not a quitter” perseverance through two major outbreaks of ownership and a commissioner, Rob Manfred, who this week told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch not only that he thinks the “Cardinals are going to be back” but also this:

“As long as you have 29 clubs where you’re not having positives, and you don’t feel like you don’t have a risk of cross-contagion, which you don’t as long as one is not playing, I think it would be surprising to make the decision that you’re going to shut down the other 29 because you have a continuing problem with one. That doesn’t seem like the right decision to make.”

MLB left many of these questions unaddressed in its 2020 plans and protocols, with apparent good reason. No league has undertaken a season like this one, and so far MLB is the only one of the major American professional sports to play outside of a league bubble during this pandemic.

RELATED: Why Cubs GM Jed Hoyer thinks a playoff bubble could be in MLB's 'best interest'

So given the inevitable adjustments to be needed along the way — and the enormous incentive to keep pushing through outbreaks — bring on Selection Sunday.

How? Who?

Teams should be rewarded for preventing outbreaks and completing their schedules. So the teams that play the most games — say, 90 percent (at least 54) or 95 percent (57) — go into a pool from which the top seed from each league is selected, based on winning percentage.

If 20 or more teams have reached that 90-percent threshold, three more teams from each league enter the playoff field based on winning percentage (the minimum numbers of games could be adjusted downward to maybe 50, if necessary, depending on any other outbreaks).

That’s half the field, with only the top seed set in each league.

The rest?

Get the networks on the phone and let the bidding begin for the selection show.

Most of the decisions might look obvious by then.

But picture a final National League playoff spot between these three teams that have played 38, 49 and 58 games, respectively, and have not faced each other during the season:

  • Cardinals, 19-19 (.500)
  • Mets, 24-25 (.490)
  • Giants, 28-30 (.483)

Not an easy call. Similar close calls might be found up and down the seeding ladders, once the fields are set.

The only tougher calls might be deciding who makes up the selection committee.

Of course, that can be answered in two words as well:

Cubs Insider.


Contact Us