Everything You Need to Know About Baseball’s New Playoff Structure

Everything You Need to Know About Baseball’s New Playoff Structure

Just like the regular season, baseball’s postseason will have changes to better accommodate the ongoing threat of the coronavirus. A season like no other before it will have a unique postseason highlighted by an expanded format, neutral sites, less off days, and statistically a greater chance of first round upsets. Answers to some your questions on this year’s playoffs can be found below:

How is the expanded format laid out?

Due to the shortened season, this year’s playoffs will feature a total of 16 teams, including eight from the National League and eight from the American League. These eight teams will consist of the three division winners, the three teams positioned in second place in each division, and two wild card teams. It can get a bit tricky as the three division winners will occupy the first three seeds based upon overall record, and then seeds 4-6 will be the second place teams based upon overall record, and seeds 7-8 will be the best records based upon who is left, no matter the division. This means that even if a team that finishes in third place in their division has a record that is better than that of a team that finished in second place in another division, the second place team will still get a higher seed. In baseball it is common for that to happen so this year that could leave some particularly strong teams sitting in the 7-8 seed matched up with some wildly unlucky division winners right at the start of the playoffs. This is one reason as to why upsets are more likely this year than an any postseason of the past.

The other reason why an upset is likely, is because every team in the playoffs will participate in the wild card round this year. Normally it is a one game playoff between the two wild card teams trying to earn a spot in the division series, but this year, with 8 teams making the field, everyone must participate. This makes one more round for the top seeded teams to have to make it through, when previously they were able to avoid it all together. Add this onto the fact that the wild card round is only a three-game series, and you can see why it won’t be surprising to see some expected championship contenders to go down early.

The Cincinnati Reds for example, if the season were to finish today, would be the 8th seed in the National League. That would match them up in the wild card round with the 1st seeded, Los Angeles Dodgers. In a three-game series the Reds could deploy Trevor Bauer, Luis Castillo, and Sonny Gray. Those are arguably three of the top 15 pitchers in baseball, and the Dodgers, who earned the no. 1 seed in the league, could have to face all of them in their very first round. In a typical seven game series, the Dodgers would still be the heavy favorites, but in a three-game series, when the Reds can throw out those three starters, it becomes a little more questionable. Baseball is statistically proven to be the most random sport there is, which is why they normally play a long, and grueling 162 game season with a smaller playoff field than most other sports. That is the best way to determine a true winner in this sport, but all of that is thrown out the window this year. This season, more so than any that proceeded it, the World Series title is for anyone to claim.

Where will the games be played?

Wild Card games will be played at the home field of the higher seeded team. So, for that first round, all three potential games will be played at the home fields of seeds 1, 2, 3, and 4.

Then, from the division series through the World Series, MLB will attempt to create a bubble type environment. They will all be played at neutral sites, with players expected to adhere by strict rules as far as quarantining at the hotel when they are not at the field, and limited family and friends joining them in the bubble.

The ALDS will be held in San Diego, CA and Los Angeles, CA, and the ALCS will be held in San Diego, CA. The NLDS will be held in Arlington, TX and Houston, TX, and the NLCS will be held in Arlington, TX. The World Series will then be held in Arlington, TX with the higher seeded team getting “home field advantage” (opportunity to bat last).

There has been talk of limited fan attendance possibly being allowed at the World Series, but talks are just preliminary and Commissioner Rob Manfred even mentioned himself that if things are going well, as far as COVID cases, then maybe they won’t want to even mess with the dynamic and bring fans to the park. This is something to keep an eye on moving forward, but it is unlikely to happen.

When will the games be played?

American League:

Wild Card: Sept. 29 – Oct. 2. Will be aired on ESPN and CBS

ALDS/NLDS: Oct. 5 – Oct. 10. Will be aired on TBS, FS1, or MLB Network

ALCS/NLCS: Oct. 11 – Oct. 18. Will be aired on TBS, FOX, or FS1

World Series: Oct. 20 – Oct. 28. Will be aired on FOX.

These changes are only in effect for the 2020 postseason, and not beyond, as of now. It will surely be something discussed when coming to terms on a new Collective Bargaining Agreement after the 2021 season.

Photo Credit: USA Today

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