By Sam Bush

The stars seem to be aligning perfectly for the Phillies.

As they start the MLB 60-game sprint tonight against the Marlins, their roster is healthy.

And now they have the gift of six extra spots in the playoffs.

Major League Baseball and the MLB Players Association have agreed to expand the playoffs from 10 teams to 16 teams for the 2020 season.

“This season will be a sprint to a new format that will allow more fans to experience playoff baseball,” commissioner Rob Manfred said in a statement announcing the expansion. “We look forward to a memorable Postseason concluding a year like no other.”

All second-place teams in the six divisions will now qualify for the playoffs. The seventh and eighth playoff teams in each league will be determined by best record.

The first round of the playoffs, scheduled for Sept. 29-Oct. 2, will be four three-game series in each league with all games played at the higher seed’s home stadium. The rest of the rounds will be their customary length: The two division series in each league will be five-game series, while the American League and National League Championship Series and World Series will be seven-game series.

“We hope it will result in highly competitive pennant races as well as exciting additional playoff games to the benefit of the industry and all involved heading into next year,” MLBPA executive director Tony Clark said in the statement.

Thursday’s agreement also included a surprise: Collection of the luxury tax will be suspended this year, a person familiar with the details told The Associated Press, speaking on condition of anonymity because no announcement was made.

The playoff expansion plan had previously been part of MLB’s proposal to restart the season before the union ended talks and told the league to unilaterally announce a schedule. The postseason last expanded in 2012.

In each league, the division winners will be seeded 1-3, the second-place teams 4-6 and the teams with the next two best records 7-8. The first-round pairings will be 1 versus 8, 2-7, 3-6 and 4-5, Manfred said.

Tiebreaker games will be eliminated, with ties broken by head-to-head record, followed by better record within a team’s division and record in the last 20 games within the division. If there is still a tie, the standard would be last 21 games within a division, then 22, etc.

The change means 53% of the 30 teams will reach the playoffs. If eight teams had qualified for the playoffs in each league from 1995 through 2019, 46 teams at or below .500 would have made it, according to research by the Elias Sports Bureau, an average of just under two per season. Those teams would have included 25 from the AL.

There would have been only three seasons in which all playoff teams would have had winning records, Elias said: 2000, 2003 and 2009.

The only time in the past 10 seasons that eight teams in each league finished at or above .500 was in 2012, according to ESPN Stats & Information research.

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