This is not your grandfather’s postseason. In the 1950s, when the teams with the best record in each league advanced directly to the World Series, baseball staged only 61 postseason games over the entire decade. This fall alone, there could be as many as 65.
That’s because of a new playoff format Major League Baseball devised for 2020, which created a round of eight best-of-three series to start the postseason. With no revenue from regular-season ticket sales, the league and the union could not resist the allure of extra money from postseason TV rights.
Some 2020 regular-season innovations will be shelved for the postseason: extra innings will not begin with a runner on second base, and there will be no seven-inning doubleheader games. But this postseason will be quite different from a typical October, so here’s what to expect:
How many teams will qualify?
Sixteen of the 30 teams will make the playoffs, making this the first season in which more than half of all teams will qualify. From 2012 through 2019, only 10 teams made it.
Which teams make the playoffs?
The first- and second-place teams from the East, Central and West divisions in both leagues will make it, as will the two teams with the next-best records in each league, who will be considered wild cards.
Tiebreakers will not be determined by play-in games; the first tiebreaker is head-to-head record (if applicable), and the next is intradivisional record. If the teams are still tied, the next tiebreaker is the teams’ record in their final 20 division games (plus one until the tie is broken).
What happened to the wild-card game?
It’s gone. From 2012 through 2019, baseball staged a one-game knockout round between the two best teams in each league that did not win their divisions. Now, instead of just two elimination games before the division series, there will be at least eight, and with a maximum of 16.
How will the new first round work?
In each league, the division winners and the team with the best second-place record will host all first-round games in the best-of-three format. The teams will be seeded Nos. 1 through 8, with 1 playing 8, 2 playing 7, 3 playing 6, and 4 playing 5.
The top three seeds will be division winners, the 4 through 6 seeds will be the second-place teams, and the 7 and 8 seeds will be the wild cards.
When will the games take place?
The first round runs from Tuesday, Sept. 29 through Friday, Oct. 2. The A.L. games will be played on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, and the N.L. games will be played on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday.
What comes next?
Unlike in the N.F.L., the teams will not be re-seeded after the first round — meaning that the winner of the 1 vs. 8 series will play the winner of the 4 vs. 5 series, and the winner of the 2 vs. 7 series will play the winner of the 3 vs. 6 series. The postseason will unfold after the first round the same way it has since 1995, with four best-of-five division series, followed by two best-of-seven League Championship Series and the best-of-seven World Series.
Where will those games be held?
After the first round, baseball goes into a bubble of sorts, with the four A.L. teams traveling to Southern California and the four N.L. teams to Texas.
The winners of the 1 vs. 8 and 4 vs. 5 first-round A.L. matchups will play their division series at San Diego’s Petco Park, with the other division series taking place at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles. The winners of the 1 vs. 8 and 4 vs. 5 first-round N.L. matchups will play their division series at Globe Life Field in Arlington, Texas, with the other division series taking place at Minute Maid Park in Houston. (Both Texas parks have retractable roofs.)
The teams will stay in their regions for the Championship Series, which will run from Oct. 11 through 18. All A.L.C.S. games will be played at Petco Park and all N.L.C.S. games at Globe Life Field. There will be no days off within any of the first three playoff rounds.
Wait, did you say no days off?
That’s right — teams will play three days in a row in the first round, five days in a row for the division series and seven days in a row for the L.C.S. This is different from the previous format, which had off days for travel after Games 2 and 4 of the division series and after Games 2 and 5 of the L.C.S.
In the old format, a pitcher could start the division series opener, then pitch again in Game 5 on his usual four days of rest. Now, the Game 1 starter would have to go on short rest for Game 5. Likewise, in the L.C.S., the Game 1 starter would not be able to pitch again with regular rest until Game 6.
The absence of off-days will make it harder for managers to utilize their best pitchers as readily as they have in recent years. Some highlights of the recent trend:
In 2017, the Los Angeles Dodgers used reliever Brandon Morrow in 14 of their 15 postseason games.
In 2018, five different Boston Red Sox pitchers appeared as both starters and relievers in the postseason.
In 2019, the Washington Nationals used three pitchers — Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg and Patrick Corbin — for a combined 89 ⅓ innings, nearly 60 percent of the team’s total.
Clearly, the new schedule will place an unprecedented emphasis on the depth of teams’ pitching staffs.
What is the format for the World Series?
The entire World Series will be held at Globe Life Field, making this the first time one ballpark will host every game since 1944, when the Browns and Cardinals squared off in Sportsman’s Park in St. Louis, which they shared as their home park. The difference now is that the setting will be the first-ever neutral site, because the hometown Rangers will miss the playoffs.
Even without travel, though, the World Series dates are locked in for the broadcaster, Fox, meaning there will still be the usual days off after Games 2 and 5. The series begins on Tuesday, Oct. 20, with a potential Game 7 scheduled for Wednesday, Oct. 28.
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