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Everything to know about expanded playoffs

@castrovince
July 23, 2020

The regular season has fewer games, and the postseason has more games. That’s the formula by which Major League Baseball will operate this year after an agreement, just before the first pitch of the 2020 season, between the owners and the MLB Players Association for a 16-team postseason structure. The

The regular season has fewer games, and the postseason has more games. That’s the formula by which Major League Baseball will operate this year after an agreement, just before the first pitch of the 2020 season, between the owners and the MLB Players Association for a 16-team postseason structure.

The 60-game regular season necessitated by the coronavirus pandemic runs counter to MLB’s traditional endurance test of 162 games. Between that and the entirely regional-based schedules -- in which all wins count equally in terms of a particular league’s Wild Card chase but not all wins are necessarily created equally, considering the strength of schedule -- it made sense to expand beyond the usual 10-team format.

Here is a guide to understanding the new postseason format for 2020.

How many teams will reach the postseason?

Sixteen -- eight from the American League, eight from the National League.

How many rounds will be played?

As has been the case since 2012, there will be four rounds. But instead of a round featuring a sudden-death Wild Card Game with the division winners resting, the format will be as follows:

Wild Card Series (best-of-three, with all games at the higher seed’s home ballpark): No. 1 seed vs. No. 8; No. 2 vs. No. 7; No. 3 vs. No. 6; No. 4 vs. No. 5.

Division Series (best-of-five, with traditional 2-2-1 home/road format): Winner of 1-8 vs. Winner of 4-5; Winner of 2-7 vs. Winner of 3-6. Home-field advantage goes to the higher seed.

League Championship Series (best-of-seven, with traditional 2-3-2 home/road format): Winner of 1-4-5-8 vs. Winner of 2-3-6-7. Home-field advantage goes to the higher seed.

World Series (best-of-seven, with traditional 2-3-2 home/road format): AL champion vs. NL champion. Home-field advantage goes to the team with the superior regular-season record.

How will the teams be seeded?

The top three seeds (Nos. 1-3) in each league will go to the three division winners (East, Central, West) in order of record.

The next three seeds (Nos. 4-6) will go to the three teams that finish in second place in their division, in order of record.

The final two seeds (Nos. 7-8) will go to the two teams with the next best records, regardless of division and division standing. Because the first- and second-place teams in each division automatically advance to October, the 7 and 8 seeds are the actual “Wild Card teams.”

What if there’s a tie (for a division championship or other postseason spot) at the conclusion of the regular season?

All ties will be resolved mathematically. No additional games will be played to break any ties. With an expanded postseason field, there is less incentive to play additional games, and this method allows for an expedited schedule that doesn’t push the World Series into November.

The first tiebreaker is head-to-head record (if applicable). If that’s also a tie, the next tiebreaker is intradivision record. If that’s still a tie, the next is record in the final 20 division games (plus one until the tie is broken).

So the Division Series could technically feature zero division winners?

Correct. Every team has to fight its way to that second round.

Will the higher seed be the “true” home team for all three games of the Wild Card Series (i.e. bat last)?

Yes. Having all three games in one location contributes to the aforementioned expedited schedule and also serves as a reward for regular-season performance.

Will this postseason structure be used in future years?

This format is only in effect for 2020. As with all things related to the pandemic, there is always a chance of scheduling and other changes in 2021. But any temporary or permanent changes to postseason structure must be collectively bargained. The current Collective Bargaining Agreement expires after 2021.

When does the postseason begin?

The best-of-three Wild Card Series will run from Tuesday, Sept. 29, through Friday, Oct. 2. The entire postseason schedule will be announced in the weeks ahead.

Who will broadcast the expanded Wild Card round?

ESPN will televise seven of the eight series. TBS will carry the other.

Anthony Castrovince has been a reporter for MLB.com since 2004. Read his columns and follow him on Twitter at @Castrovince.