The baseball playoffs are about to begin. Time to be enthralled! Time to be entertained! Time to be ... asking some reasonable questions.
Yep, there are bound to be some fans -- especially those who don’t live and die with their team every day -- who have some questions about certain aspects of the postseason and might be afraid to ask their friends about it. After all, Major League Baseball’s postseason format is different this year than it was in 2021, which was different than in '20, which was different than in '19. Because of a pandemic and then a new Collective Bargaining Agreement between owners and players, the configuration has had more movement than a Clayton Kershaw curveball.
So we’re here to help.
Before we get to all your burning questions and how the MLB Postseason works, here's a reminder of the Game 1 times for the Wild Card Series, which gets underway on Friday.
And for the complete Postseason schedule, visit here.
Rays @ Guardians, 12:07 p.m., ESPN
Phillies @ Cardinals, 2:07 p.m., ABC
Mariners @ Blue Jays, 4:07 p.m., ESPN
Padres @ Mets, 8:07 p.m., ESPN
1. OK, let’s start there: How does the MLB postseason work?
Twelve of the 30 teams reach the postseason. That’s six from each league (American League and National League) -- the three division winners in each league (East, Central and West) and three Wild Card teams from each league.
They play a bracket-style postseason to ultimately determine a World Series champion.
2. What does “Wild Card” mean?
It’s a playing card that can have any value, suit or color in a game, at the discretion of the player holding it. Oh, you mean in baseball?
A Wild Card is a team that advances to the postseason without having won its division. There could be cases, though, where a Wild Card team actually has a better record than a division winner from another division. However, the division winners get precedence with regard to seeding. This is the first year where there will be three Wild Card teams per league (six total), whereas there had been two per league under the previous CBA.
3. So how are the teams seeded?
In each league, like so:
- No. 1 seed: Best league record
- No. 2 seed: Second-best division winner
- No. 3 seed: Third-best division winner
- No. 4 seed: Best record among Wild Card teams
- No. 5 seed: Second-best record among Wild Card teams
- No. 6 seed: Third-best record among Wild Card teams
In the AL, the No. 1 seed went to the Astros, followed by the Yankees (2) and Guardians (3). And in order, by record, the three Wild Card Series teams are the Blue Jays, Mariners and Rays.
While in the NL, the Dodgers grabbed the No. 1 seed, followed by the Braves (2), who won it all last year, and the Cardinals (3). The three Wild Card Series teams are the Mets, Padres and Phillies.
4. Ah, so No. 1 plays No. 6 and so on…
No, no, hold on a sec. You’re getting ahead of yourself.
The top two seeds in each league actually have a bye in the first round. They advance directly to the Division Series.
5. Got it. So how do the other teams try to advance?
They play the opening-round Wild Card Series. In each league, it includes the division winner with the worst record and the three Wild Card teams.
6. Isn’t there some sort of single-elimination playoff game?
There used to be. When each league only had two Wild Card teams, those teams would face each other in a single, winner-take-all matchup.
Now, with the postseason expanded to three Wild Card teams per league, the opening round is a best-of-three series. The No. 3 seed faces the No. 6 seed, while the Nos. 4 and 5 seeds face each other. The winners of each series advance to face the top two seeds (the teams that were idle) in the Division Series.
7. So it’s called the “Wild Card Series” even though a couple of division winners are in it?
Yeah, well, “Wild Card and Worst Division Winner Series” didn’t have quite the same ring to it.
8. Is it fair to have a division winner play an extra round?
Life isn’t fair. And anyway, this system provides added incentive to not only win your division but to outpace the other division winners.
9. Fair enough. Are teams reseeded after the Wild Card Series?
Nope. The bracket is maintained throughout the postseason.
In the best-of-five Division Series, the winner of 3/6 faces the No. 2 seed and the winner of 4/5 faces the No. 1 seed. The winners of those series then move on to face each other in the best-of-seven League Championship Series, and the two LCS winners face each other in the best-of-seven World Series.
10. How does home-field advantage work for the Wild Card Series?
That’s the interesting wrinkle: All three games in the Wild Card Series are played in the ballpark of the team with the higher seed. That gives the No. 3 seed and the No. 4 seed home-field advantage for the entirety of that round.
11. Why is that?
So that the top two seeds can get rest without getting too much rest. This setup allows all three games to be played in a three-day span (actually, over a weekend) without any travel delays.
12. Is hosting all three games a big advantage?
We really don’t know yet. Historically, home teams have won 54.7% of all postseason games. In the pandemic season in 2020, there was a best-of-three Wild Card Series (again, with all three games at the same venue), and the percentage was higher, at 55.6%. But that was with no fans in the stands.
Interestingly, though, home teams only went 9-9 in the Wild Card round when it was a single-elimination event. We’ll see how it goes this year.
13. How does home-field advantage work in the other rounds?
For the Division Series, the Nos. 1 and 2 seeds have home-field advantage. So they host Games 1 and 2 and, if necessary, Game 5.
For the League Championship Series, the remaining teams with the highest seed get the home-field advantage and host Games 1, 2 and, if necessary, 6 and 7.
For the World Series, home-field advantage (hosting duties in Games 1, 2 and, if necessary, 6 and 7) goes to the league pennant winner that had the better regular season record.
14. Doesn’t World Series home-field advantage have something to do with the All-Star Game?
At one time, it went to the league that won the All-Star Game. But that has not been the case since 2016.
15. Do any postseason games take place in a neutral site?
No. That did happen during the pandemic-altered 2020 postseason, but that was it.
16. OK, so when does the Wild Card Series take place?
Two days after the conclusion of the regular season. All of the games will take place from Friday, Oct. 7, through Sunday, Oct. 9 (if necessary).
17. And then when does the Division Series take place?
All four Division Series (two in the AL and two in the NL) are scheduled to begin on Tuesday, Oct. 11. This leaves a day in-between the Wild Card Series and Division Series for travel and potential makeup scenarios in the event of weather issues.
There is a bit of an oddity in this year’s Division Series schedule. In the ALDS, the teams will have the usual off-day after Game 2 (which is a travel day) but also a day off after Game 1. And in both leagues, the Division Series will not have an off-day (for travel) between a potential Game 4 and Game 5.
18. What about the LCS and World Series?
The LCS round begins Tuesday, Oct. 18, in the NL and Oct. 19 in the AL. It will follow the usual schedule, with off-days for travel after Games 2 and 5.
The World Series begins Friday, Oct. 28, and will also follow the usual schedule with off-days for travel after Games 2 and 5.
19. So the World Series could end in November this year?
It will definitely end in November this year. The earliest it could end is with Game 4 on Nov. 1. The latest is with Game 7 on Nov. 5.
20. Won’t it be cold?
Well, not if the Dodgers are hosting. But anyway, did you know Game 7 of the 2016 World Series in Cleveland took place on Nov. 2 and had a 69-degree first pitch? In Cleveland!
21. Is the designated hitter used in all games?
Yes. With the universal DH permanently put in place in 2022, all postseason games will feature the DH spot in the lineup.
22. So there will be less bunting?
If you mean the baseball play, yes. If you mean the stadium decoration, no.
23. What about that ghost runner at second in extra innings?
It’s not a ghost runner. It’s a human being.
24. You know what I mean. The automatic runner.
That will not be used in the postseason. It is only used in the regular season. So in the postseason, extra innings will begin with nobody on base (and no ghost runners, either).
25. What about these new rules I heard about? Are they used in the postseason?
No. Three rule changes were recently approved for 2023 -- a pitch timer to quicken the pace, bigger bases to improve player safety and a limit on defensive shifting in the infield to lead to more traditional outcomes on balls in play. Those rules do not go into effect until next season.
26. Can teams change their rosters during the postseason?
Yes. Teams submit a 26-man roster prior to each round. So they can change the roster from round to round. However, the roster can only include postseason-eligible players (i.e., players who were in the organization prior to September).
Teams can also request permission from the Commissioner’s Office to replace an injured player during the course of a playoff series. But that player is then ineligible for the rest of the round and for the subsequent round (if the team advances). A pitcher may be replaced only by a pitcher and a position player by a position player.
27. Can a playoff team add Shohei Ohtani?
Only in our dreams.
28. Do any playoff stats count toward regular-season totals?
No. So Albert Pujols, who hit 24 homers this season and 703 for his career, would not add to that total if he hits a home run for the Cardinals in the postseason. (If postseason home runs counted, Pujols would have another 19 added to his career total.)
Same, of course, goes for Aaron Judge and his single-season home run tally of 62. Whatever he finishes with on the last day of the regular season is his total for the year. So, during the postseason, he won’t be vying for Barry Bonds’ record of 73.
29. Who would be the all-time home run leader if the postseason stats counted?
Still Barry Bonds (771), but only by 10 (Hank Aaron had 761).
30. How often does the best team win the World Series?
If we define “best team” as the team with the best regular-season record, it’s actually pretty rare. Since 1969 (when the League Championship Series began), only 14 teams with MLB’s best record have gone on to win the World Series. It happened most recently with the 2020 Dodgers, and the last team to do it in a full season was the 2018 Red Sox. The Dodgers will try to do it again this year.
31. How often does the reigning World Series champion repeat?
In the Wild Card era, that has become very rare, too. It hasn’t happened since the 1998-2000 Yankees. So the defending champion Braves have their work cut out for them.
32. Has a Wild Card team ever won the World Series?
Yes, it’s actually happened seven times since MLB first used the Wild Card in 1995. The 1997 Marlins, 2002 Angels, '03 Marlins, '04 Red Sox, and '11 Cardinals all won it when there was just one Wild Card per league. The '14 Giants and '19 Nationals were Wild Card teams who won it all during the two-Wild Card era.
33. Will the new format make it more difficult for a Wild Card team to win it all?
It could. In the previous format, Wild Card teams had to burn their best available pitcher in a single Wild Card Game, but it was only one game.
Now, all the teams involved in the Wild Card Series have to play up to three games before facing a rested division winner. This could improve the odds of the team with the best record winning it all. But only time will tell, as it tends to do.
34. Who should I root for if my team gets bounced?
If your favorite team reaches the playoffs and gets knocked out, you can’t go wrong rooting for the team that knocked it out. That way, if said team goes on to win it all, you will know that it took a championship-caliber ballclub to bring you down.
35. Why do I get the feeling that won’t actually make me feel any better?
Probably because it won’t.
36. So ... any other suggestions?
Well, you could root for a Mariners team that not only entered 2022 with the longest postseason drought in baseball (21 years) but is the only team in MLB that has never even been to the World Series.
37. Any other teams with long droughts?
The Phillies nailed down a playoff spot for the first time since 2011. That was the longest active drought in the NL.
The Padres also claimed an NL Wild Card spot. Neither of those franchises has ever won the World Series. They have also never won the World Series in their existence, dating back to 1969.
38. What’s the most surprising playoff team?
It’s got to be the Cleveland Guardians, who are just the eighth team ever -- and the first since the 1986 Mets -- to reach the playoffs with the youngest roster in MLB.
39. Any veteran managers of note?
Astros manager Dusty Baker has yet another chance to win it all. He is the only skipper with at least 2,000 career victories who has not guided a team to a World Series crown. This is the 12th team he’s guided to October, and he’s won two pennants. But not the Fall Classic.
Then there’s Buck Showalter, who has more than 1,600 wins without winning a World Series. He might have won one in the Bronx if not for that cotton uniform fiasco documented on “Seinfeld,” but now he’s got a legit chance with a fun Mets team fronted by Cy Young Award winners Max Scherzer and Jacob deGrom.
40. Old skippers are fun. Any old players trying to win it all?
Might we introduce you to the Cardinals? Pujols and catcher Yadi Molina are retiring after this season, and starter Adam Wainwright is 41. That trio was together for St. Louis’ 2006 championship team (and would have been together in '11, too, had Wainwright not been injured that year) and is trying to win together one last time.
41. What are some other storylines?
The Braves are trying to be the rare repeaters. They didn’t have star outfielder Ronald Acuña Jr. for their crazy run last year, but now he’s in the mix.
The Rays perennially compete with one of the lowest payrolls in baseball. They’re back for more.
The Blue Jays haven’t won it all since 1993. They’ve got an entire country pulling for them. And though Hall of Famer Vladimir Guerrero never won it all, his son, Vlad Jr., has a chance.
If dynasties are your thing, the Dodgers are trying to win their second World Series in three years, on the heels of their ninth division title in 10 years.
And then there’s the Yankees. There was a time when it seemed they won the World Series every year. But they haven’t even been to it since 2009.
42. Excellent. I feel more prepared for the playoffs now. Just one last question: Which team will win it all?
The winner of the World Series. Duh.