Our first look at baseball’s new MLB playoff format was intense, compact, frenetic and, let’s face it, a little bit random. One team whose spot in the tournament wasn’t clinched until the closing days of the season, the Philadelphia Phillies, earned a date with the defending champion Atlanta Braves. Meanwhile, the St. Louis Cardinals -- a division champion playing a wild-card series -- are done after a dispiriting stretch that from start to finish lasted around 30 hours.
Those were just two outcomes from a playoff weekend unlike anything we’d see under the old format. Now we’re about to return to rhythms mostly familiar from postseasons in years past. The “mostly” qualifier is needed because it’s still not quite normal due to schedule tweaks necessitated by baseball’s late start last spring. But it’s still the division series: four series, best-of-five, first team to win three advances.
While the four wild-card round survivors put themselves through initial playoff stress tests, the top two seeds in each league were taking it easy, comparatively. They were holding workouts (or not showing up for them, in the case of the New York Yankees’ Aroldis Chapman), doing a little bit of media and waiting to find out whom they’d face in the division series. Now that baseball’s version of the elite eight is set, let’s peek ahead to the next round through the prism of what we saw over the weekend.
The Braves, Yankees, Los Angeles Dodgers and Houston Astros won 417 games between them during the season, but that now all rolls back to zero as they face four teams that hope to have momentum on their side after getting through the opening gantlet. Just how have their prospects changed over the past three days -- or have they not changed at all?