Baseball brainstorm: Brackets? 7-inning games? How MLB could experiment in a short season

The fate of Major League Baseball’s 2020 season is up in the air as the world reels from the coronavirus pandemic. At the very least, its form will have to be altered.

That is not what anyone wished for, but if public health eventually stabilizes enough to allow for sporting events, an unusual season could carry a small opportunity for America’s most tradition-bound game. The baseball world is constantly obsessing over the tug of war between adaptation to the contemporary entertainment environment and adherence to the rules, numbers and structures that, over more than a century, have created a rich framework around the sport. A season that is already inherently different is a chance to float a trial balloon, to see how different the sport can be before we denounce it as too different. (When the NBA began a lockout-shortened year on Christmas Day, for instance, many were convinced every season should start on Dec. 25.)

So, we assembled the Yahoo Sports baseball staff in Slack, put the more pressing pandemic-related questions to the side for a moment, and took to the whiteboard, so to speak: What experiments could baseball run in 2020 that might stick around?

This is part one of our conversation. - Zach Crizer

EXPERIMENT: Brackets for baseball (AKA Save The Tigers Fans)

Chris Cwik: Bracket-style baseball: If this stretches into August and we need to get in games in a month or two, MLB should do a bracket with every single team. The team with the worst record last season (Tigers) would play a best-of-five series against the Nationals and we would keep moving down until only two teams were left. We could even have a loser's bracket type scenario as well. This is most helpful for this year when we might not get baseball for a while, but if the NBA is considering something similar in the regular season, MLB can too.


Mark Townsend: August Madness.

Cwik: Problem solved. Let's pack it up.

Hannah Keyser: Do they stop playing as soon as they lose a series?

Jack Baer: My initial thought was that Tigers fans might not appreciate watching only five games this year, but that actually might be a plus for them.

Keyser: Like do Tigers fans only get to go to three games? THREE GAMES.

Cwik: I think that's why we probably need a loser's bracket. You can come out of the loser's bracket at the end to take on the one team that won the winner's bracket.

Mike Oz: I'm all about the notion of March Madness for baseball. But I think there has to be the thrill of anything-can-happen upset where the Pirates oust the Dodgers and that doesn't really happen in a five-game series.

PITTSBURGH, PA - JUNE 19:  Brandon Dixon #12 of the Detroit Tigers celebrates after hitting a home run in the third inning against the Pittsburgh Pirates during inter-league play at PNC Park on June 19, 2019 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)
Brandon Dixon led the 2019 Tigers, who lost 114 games, with 15 home runs. An extreme, knockout-style bracket could alter how bad teams are constructed. (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)

Keyser: Doesn't it? I was concerned this would be TOO random.

Cwik: The team that comes up from the loser's bracket has to win two best-of-seven series against the team from the winner's bracket.

Zach Crizer: What if this is a sideshow? Like one of those English soccer tournaments that matters but not reeeeally.

Cwik: To answer Hannah's question above, though, it's possible the Pirates only get to play six games. But that's the price they pay for not fielding a competitive team.

Townsend: I agree with that notion that it could kill off interest from fanbases pretty quickly. Then again, most of them had nothing to look forward to to begin with.

Cwik: Every game is do-or-die, though. That's my counterpoint.

Pirates fans are super invested in those games. In the regular season, they'll check out in May.

Baer: Plus, imagine the "Duke loses in the first round" level schadenfreude that would erupt if the Astros' season ended in September because variance.

Oz: I love a bracket, here's how I would adjust it: All the regular season is just for seeding. Top team in each league gets a bye into the second round. First two rounds are one game and you're out. From there, the series become three, five and seven games each. Use NCAA Tourney style setup where there are games at four sites; you play game after game for the first two rounds. Eventually, once you get to like eight teams playing 5-game series, they return to their home fields.

Keyser: I think they should or could do this for the playoffs if the regular season isn't long enough to feel "fair.”

ATLANTA, GA  AUGUST 16:  Los Angeles Dodgers outfielder Cody Bellinger (35) shrugs back to the dugout after his long drive did not go over the wall during the MLB game between the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Atlanta Braves on August 16th, 2019 at SunTrust Park in Atlanta, GA. (Photo by Rich von Biberstein/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
Is there a wildly different format in baseball's future? Who knows, but a shortened 2020 season could be ripe for experimentation. (Photo by Rich von Biberstein/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Townsend: For a shortened season, I wouldn't be against an experiment like this. But I don't see any carryover appeal.

Keyser: Yeah this feels very ~if the regular season isn't long enough and we want all 30 teams in the postseason~ but I do like it for that.

Oz: Furthermore, before the bracket tourney starts, you have MLB Awards days, broadcast from all four sites, and hand out MVP, etc. there. Not after the season. Next day, tourney starts.

That's how baseball could own a sports news cycle.

Cwik: I think Oz's idea helps carry it over to every single season. But you could do it as a World Baseball Classic type event, too. Which is kinda what he just said.

EXPERIMENT: Condense the season (AKA The Dad Plan, AKA The Modified Boras)

Townsend: I think the baseball season itself needs to be shorter. Given the unpredictable weather in October, it doesn't make sense to spend that entire month playing baseball. MLB should aim to end the regular season in mid-September. But I don't necessarily think there needs to be fewer games.

My idea: Chop three weeks off the regular season. Schedule weekly doubleheaders with two seven-inning games like they do in the minors. A shortened season would be the perfect time to experiment with how these future doubleheaders would work at the highest level.

The current regular season schedule runs 26 1/2 weeks. The weekly doubleheader would keep us at 162 games. Every six weeks, leave three days open for either rest or makeup games if a future makeup can't be scheduled. Make the All-Star break a full week where either makeup games are held or teams are allowed to rest. Teams will undoubtedly be opposed since they'd lose home dates, but I think the interest in attending a doubleheader could help even that out.

Cwik: My head hurts.

Baer: Every manager with bullpen problems (which is all of them) just threw up a little.

Keyser: I am all for a shorter season — I wonder if players think more days off would balance out more doubleheaders. Also! You're assuming they'd let fans attend two games for the price of one, which would never happen. 🙃

Oz: Well, I'm all for a shorter season.

Keyser: BREAKING: People who work in baseball support a shorter season.

Crizer: I am against this because I like it when players wear the funny ear flap hats because they are cold.

CHICAGO, IL - APRIL 17:  Kris Bryant #17 of the Chicago Cubs, bundled up forthe cold, mans third base against the St. Louis Cardinals at Wrigley Field on April 17, 2018 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
Would baseball be better if it used doubleheaders in the summer to avoid more of the cold weather on either end of the season? (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

Keyser: It's pretty damn cold in March.

They couldn't do this AND limit pitcher spots on the roster.

Baer: Maybe this comes with a rider that the Twins have to install a dome.

Townsend: There would be a lot of kinks to work out. Undoubtedly. Expanding the rosters further would be a must as for the bullpen issues mentioned.

Oz: I DO think this is an easy way to ease into what a seven-inning game would look like and see if we hate it ... or actually love it.

Cwik: Yeah, I can get on board with that too, Oz.

I'd be in favor of introducing the concept this season. Just to see.

Townsend: I really just want more doubleheaders. I've always like how the minor leagues do that.

Keyser: Are you more in it for the doubleheaders or the shortened season?

Townsend: Doubleheaders first and foremost. Not having baseball possibly on Halloween right behind that. October postponements are the worst.

Oz: My kids vote for this.

Cwik: Mark has introduced the dad plan.

Keyser: Yeah I think you actually have everyone sold on this except owners who don't want to do a two-for-one deal on tickets.

Oz: The doubleheaders need to come with foam fingers, four beers and hot dogs.

Townsend: Whatever it takes!


Cwik: This is only tangentially related, but Jack brought it up. Every team should play in a dome is a take I've had for some time. Does it apply here? Probably not. But it's a good take.

Keyser: Every team should NOT play in a dome. Get that take out of this great take space. Townie's doubleheaders and no November baseball can stay, but baseball should be played in weather.

Cwik: We would get a 162-game season this year if every team had a dome. Year-round baseball.

Sorry, I've hijacked Mark's idea.

Townsend: All of us for commissioner of something. Maybe baseball.

Keyser: Cwik trying to rob Marco Scutaro of his iconic moment.

More of the brainstorm session coming soon.

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