How do mlb playoffs work? Chicago baseball fans can be forgiven if they’re not intimately familiar with the new playoff format rolled out by Major League Baseball last season.
After all, neither the Cubs nor White Sox sniffed the playoffs last year, but with the Cubs in the driver’s seat in the wild card race, fans are beginning to pay attention to how the postseason is structured.
Here is a primer on the system, which came into force last year:
Number of Qualifying Teams – 12
Six teams qualify for the postseason in each league. Three of those teams are the division winners, as had been the case for several years, but the remaining three teams all earn wild card berths.
It is at this point that we get our first divergence from the old format.
The two division winners with the best record in each league receive a bye through the first round of the playoffs under the new format. The remaining division winner, as well as the three wild card winners, compete in best-of-three series to determine who makes it to the Division Series round.
The division winner will face the third-seeded wild card team, while the top-seeded wild card club will host the second-seeded team.
The best-of-three series will be exclusively contested in the higher-seeded team’s park, with no travel days or days off in between.
The winner of the 3-6 matchup will face the second-seeded division winner in the Divisional Series round, while the 4-5 winner will face the top-seeded club in the league.
How the Rest of the Postseason Works
The rest of the postseason plays out as it did in the past. The Division Series round is a best-of-five series, with the first two games at the higher-seeded team’s park, Games 3 and 4 in the lower-seeded team’s park, and deciding Game 5’s back in the higher-seeded stadium.
The League Championship Series remains best-of-seven, with a 2-3-2 format. The World Series follows the same format, with the team with the better record earning home-field advantage.
One Other Change to Note
While baseball fans have grown accustomed to “Game 163,” with tiebreaker games determining playoff clubs, those no longer exist in the new format.
There are a series of tiebreakers implemented instead to determine playoff spots, with head-to-head record serving as the cleanest path to a team making the postseason.
Beyond that, MLB will go through a list that includes “intradivisional record,” then “interdivisional record,” and finally a team’s record in the second half of their season against teams within their league.
Wild Card Round
Instead of a single-game format, the wild-card round is now a best-of-three series. All three games are hosted by the higher seed. This year the wild-card round will be held on Tuesday, Oct. 3, Wednesday, Oct. 4 and Thursday, Oct. 5 (if necessary). ESPN will broadcast the wild-card games.
The Division Series is a best-of-five series, with the first two games hosted by the higher seed, Games 3 and 4 hosted by the lower seed, and Game 5 (if necessary) hosted by the higher seed.
The ALDS and NLDS will both begin on Saturday, Oct. 7. The ALDS will be broadcast on FOX/FS1, while TBS airs the NLDS.
League Championship Series
The League Championship Series is a best-of-seven series, with the first two games hosted by the higher seed, Games 3, 4 and 5 hosted by the lower seed, and Games 6 and 7 (if necessary) hosted by the higher seed.
The ALCS will begin on Sunday, Oct. 15, and the NLCS will begin on Monday, Oct. 16. The ALCS will be broadcast on FOX/FS1, while the NLCS will be on TBS.
Will the MLB playoffs have reseeding?
Under this structure, there will be no reseeding. The No. 1 seed will play the winner of the No. 4-No. 5 series, while No. 2 will play the winner of No. 3-No. 6. This is to keep series balanced, and to ensure that No. 1 isn’t stuck playing against a division winner under any circumstances in the second round.
Who would have made the MLB playoffs in 2021?
In this format, the Rays, Astros, White Sox, Giants, Brewers, and Braves all sat out during the wild-card rounds. The Red Sox, Yankees, Dodgers and Cardinals played each other in the wild-card round.
With the change, the White Sox would have hosted the Blue Jays in a best-of-three series while the Braves would have hosted the Reds in a best of three. Needless to say, this could have had huge implications on the National League side, given the Braves would go on to win it all last year.
Who does this affect most?
While this will have a ripple effect on the No. 4 and No. 5 seeds due to the wild-card round now being a series, the third-best division winner takes the brunt of the hit in this new format. By removing the bye and giving it a series against the No. 6 team, It makes the road to the World Series that much more difficult. If that No. 6 team comes from a stacked division (e.g. the AL East or NL East this year), it’s going to be a hard path for the third-best division winner.
Can a non-division winner get a bye?
If a situation like Giants-Dodgers in 2021 happens and two teams from the same division have the best records in their respective league, the second-best team will not get a No. 2 seed and instead be relegated to the No. 4 seed spot. Ergo, baseball won’t be following the NBA precedent of minimizing divisions.
This has been the company line for MLB for some time. Don’t expect to see the importance of winning the division dissipate any time soon.
Why did MLB playoffs expand?
There seems to be concern about bad teams sneaking into the postseason, but MLB isn’t like the NBA where leagues are top-heavy. Don’t expect to see a 70-win team competing for a spot in the playoffs this year. Under these rules last year, a 91-win Blue Jays team and an 83-win Reds team would have made the playoffs.
MLB playoffs expanded because, frankly, playoff games make more money for teams. It behooved the owners to push this change in recent negotiations, and the emphasis on divisions was a compromise. Keep in mind, this doesn’t just add a team to the playoffs. It adds a minimum of six games. That’s six games of revenue. The wild-card round is now a full round of the postseason, rather than just a game.
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