The short 2020 season has necessitated MLB to implement an expanded postseason for this year, adding six teams to the previous format and making it a 16-team postseason a la the NBA or the NHL. Despite the expanded playoffs guaranteeing several mediocre to bad teams making it into the tournament, the Mets still didn’t make it this year.
However, even though they didn’t make it this time, it’s still interesting to think about how recent Mets history would look in an alternate universe if eight teams out of the NL made it every year instead of the usual four or five that it has been since the three-division era started. So let’s go back and have a look at how many times the Mets would have made the playoffs in a 16-team format.
For this exercise, we’ll seed the playoffs the same way MLB did it this year: with the top two teams in each division making the playoffs automatically, and then two extra wild card spots for the next two best records in the NL. Given that this format relies entirely on a three-division format, we’ll only encompass the wild card era here. That technically goes back to 1994, but the playoffs did not happen that year. So we’ll start in 1995, which is a 26-year sample.
As we know, the Mets have only made the playoffs five times in the last 26 seasons under normal rules. But if we expand the playoffs to 16 teams for every season, the Mets make it 13 times in that timeframe, which is exactly half of the number of seasons played.
Mets postseason berths with 16-team format
|Year||Record||Seed #||1st round opponent|
|Year||Record||Seed #||1st round opponent|
When visualized like this, what stands out the most is that they go on several runs of multi-year success, making the postseason four-straight years from 1997-2000 and 2005-2008, and having a three-year run from 2014-2016.
Two losing Mets teams make the playoffs, in 1995 and 2014. The ‘14 Mets making it means that guys like Eric Campbell and Matt den Dekker would have been taking postseason at bats behind starting pitchers Dillon Gee and Jon Niese.
The exciting 1999 wild card race never happens in this alternate universe, as both the Reds and the Mets make it comfortably, securing the 4th and 5th seeds, respectively. They would have played each other in the first round, at least. The historic collapses of 2007 and 2008 also turn out to only affect playoff seeding, as the Mets never really face danger of missing the postseason all together in either of those seasons. This also means the Reyes-Wright-Beltran-Delgado core has more than one real chance at making it to the promised land.
For Mets teams that made the playoffs in real life, we see how the expanded seeding affects their postseason runs. The 2000 Mets face off against the 86-win Dodgers in the first round, and would have faced the winner of the Giants/Marlins series in the NLDS. The 2006 Mets would be pitted against the 79-83 Braves in the first round, and if they won, would play the winner of the Phillies/Dodgers series in the NLDS. The 2015 Mets, funnily enough, would have faced off against the 6th seed Washington Nationals in the first round. So yes, the 2015 Nationals choke is also made irrelevant by the expanded postseason. If the Mets won, they’d have advanced to face the winner of the #2 seed Dodgers and the #7 seed Cubs, so the Mets would not have played one of those two teams that October.
In 2016, the Mets and Giants would have had a 2 out of 3 series instead of one game to determine who advances, with the winner advancing to face the winner of the Cubs-Marlins series. The Cubs won 103 games that year; the Marlins won 79. If the Marlins somehow pulled a miracle, the Cubs would have never won a World Series and the Mets’ path to the NLCS that year would’ve been much easier.
You also see some more good, fun Mets teams making the playoffs here. The 1998, 2005, and 2019 teams in particular are all looked back fondly upon as teams that were very enjoyable to watch but fell short. They don’t fall short in this scenario, and it’s possible they make deep runs. The 2019 team, with the deGrom-Stroman-Syndergaard-Wheeler rotation, stands out as a team that could have made some serious noise in October.
Not pictured in the graph are the years the Mets did not make the playoffs, but would have still played the always-special Meaningful September Games. The 2001 Mets would have finished just four games out of the second place spot in the NL East. The 2010 Mets, who finished with 77 wins and featured names like Mike Hessman, Jesus Feliciano, Pat Misch, and Manny Acosta down the stretch, would have finished two games out of the eighth seed. Imagine Elmer Dessens coming in a big spot with the season hanging in the balance in the final week.
The 2011 Mets are similarly in it until the end, finishing 3.5 games behind the 80-81 Nationals, who would have gotten the 8th seed. Perhaps worst of all, the 2013 Mets, who only won 74 games, finish two games out of the playoffs. The 76-86 San Diego Padres would have taken the 8th seed that year. Aaron Harang, Carlos Torres, and Daisuke Matsuzaka started 14 of the Mets’ 28 games in September 2013. Those would have been meaningful games.
The lesson here is that expanded playoffs are a bad idea that greatly cheapens the postseason. While it would be kind of cool to have seen some good Mets teams get a chance to make a run, it is far outweighed by all of the classic pennant chases we’ve experienced as fans being rendered almost meaningless. In addition, many bad Mets teams would have had playoff aspirations, and that’s not a good thing. The 16-team format is thankfully not here to stay, but Rob Manfred has mentioned that he’d like to keep at least a 12 or 14-team format. Whatever the case, let’s never do 16 teams again.