A baseball season unlike any other will conclude with a postseason unlike any other. An expanded format, neutral sites, a reduction in off-days and greater-than-ever potential for upsets will make this an October to remember.
We don’t know if the Dodgers will win the World Series for the first time since 1988, if the Indians will snap a 72-year title drought, if the Yankees will get past the ALCS for the first time in more than a decade or if a surprise squad like the Padres, White Sox or Blue Jays will go the distance.
But we do have answers to all of your questions about this first-of-its-kind postseason format.
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 team/road team format at neutral sites): 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 team/road team format at neutral sites): 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 team/road team format at a neutral site): AL champion vs. NL champion. Home-field advantage goes to the higher seed.
Where and when will the games be played, and how can I watch?
All Wild Card Series games (Sept. 29-Oct. 2) will take place in the home ballpark of the higher seed and will air on ESPN and TBS.
The 1-8 vs. 4-5 ALDS (Oct. 5-9, TBS) will be at Petco Park in San Diego, and the 2-7 vs. 3-6 ALDS (Oct. 5-9, TBS) will be at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles.
The 1-8 vs. 4-5 NLDS (Oct. 6-10, FS1 or MLB Network) will be at Globe Life Field in Arlington, Texas, and the 2-7 vs. 3-6 NLDS (Oct. 6-10, FS1 or MLB Network) will be at Minute Maid Park in Houston.
The ALCS (Oct. 11-17, TBS) will be at Petco Park, and the NLCS (Oct. 12-18, FOX or FS1) will be at Globe Life Field.
The World Series (Oct. 20-28, FOX) will be at Globe Life Field.
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.”
You can view the current projected seedings here.
So if one of the second-place teams happens to have a worse record than one of the Wild Card teams, the second-place team is still the higher seed?
Yes. The reason for that is teams within the same league played different schedules, with no games outside of their geographic division. So the team with the worse record could conceivably have played a more difficult schedule than the team with a superior record.
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).
You can read a full breakdown of tiebreaker scenarios here.
So the Division Series could technically feature zero division winners?
Correct. Every team has to fight its way to that second round.
Will teams be re-seeded after any of the rounds?
No, teams will progress through the brackets as prescribed at the outset of the postseason.
Has the World Series ever taken place at a neutral site?
Who will have home-field advantage in the World Series?
The higher-seeded team will be the “home” team and bat last for Games 1 and 2 (and, if necessary Games 6 and 7) at Globe Life Field. In the event that both the AL and NL pennant winners have the same seed, the team with the higher regular-season winning percentage gets home-field advantage.
Why are neutral sites being used?
Due to health, safety and competitive considerations. Having players and staff in a so-called protective “bubble” (players and staff will be restricted to the hotel and the ballpark) reduces the possibility of the spread of COVID-19. This plan also eliminates the need for mid-round travel days.
Why are the Division Series and League Championship Series taking place in ballparks from the opposite league?
So as not to give any of the clubs a competitive advantage.
What impact will the reduction in travel days have?
There will be no off-days in the middle of the Wild Card Series, Division Series and League Championship Series rounds. This will greatly impact how teams manage their pitching staffs. The reduced rest will be a greater test of each team’s depth.
Will roster sizes be the same in the postseason as they were at the end of the regular season?
Yes. Rosters will remain at 28 players, as they have been since Aug. 6. Clubs can continue to choose to have up to five players on a taxi squad.
Will extra innings continue to feature an automatic runner at second base?
No, that rule was only in effect for the 2020 regular season and will not be in place for the postseason. Extra innings will begin with none on, none out.
What about the three-batter minimum for pitchers?
Prior to the adjusted 2020 season, the three-batter minimum was a permanent amendment to the official rules. So it will be in effect for the postseason.
Will National League teams continue to use the DH in the postseason?
Yes, that rule was put in place for the entirety of the 2020 championship season.
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 '21. But any temporary or permanent changes to postseason structure must be collectively bargained. The current Collective Bargaining Agreement expires after '21.