The MLB playoffs in 2021 are more exciting than ever -- you just need to know when and what to watch

Illustration by ESPN

People love to complain about baseball. We get it. Postseason games are long. Managers churn through often anonymous relievers. And whatever happened to starters pitching all nine innings?

Yes, postseason baseball might be different from the style you grew up watching and learned to love. Or maybe you're falling in love with it now and don't understand laments about the past. It has changed through the years -- and ESPN baseball writers Bradford Doolittle and David Schoenfield show you how -- but different doesn't mean worse.

October baseball is arguably more exciting than ever. Here's why.

There are many more acts in the October drama

The trend:

Average number of postseason games per season
1960s: 6.6
1970s: 14.0
1980s: 17.6
1990s: 25.3
2000s: 32.2
2010s: 35.6
2020: 53

It's a straightforward proposition: The more teams you have in the postseason, the more postseason games you're going to get. There is a precious tradeoff to be maintained between giving us as much of that special October drama as possible, without selling out the six-month proof of concept that is the baseball regular season.

Last year's 16-team field might have messed with that balance, but the format in place for most of the past decade, and the one that's back this season, does a great job of rewarding both phases of the season.

How it adds drama: On one hand, more games means more drama. On the other, there are competitive ramifications. Teams can and do condense their rosters for the playoffs. There is no shuttling of relievers or a merry-go-round of waivers and claims like in the regular season. As ever, a hot player can carry you in a short series. And, yes, even a seven-game series is a short series given the protracted sorting-out process that is endemic to baseball.