This past March, Major League Baseball commissioner Bud Selig announced an agreement between MLB and the Players' Association to expand the playoffs for the first time since 1994. Starting this season, the playoffs expand to 10 teams, with the addition of a second wild-card team in each league.
However, due to the fact that the new format was agreed to so late in the year, the television schedule was already set for the World Series. As a result, some of the changes to the format are only for this season.
Here is the way things will work in 2012:
1. Wild-Card Round
As noted, for the first time, there will be two wild-card winners in each league, determined by the top two records among the non-division winners. Barring weather delays or multiple tiebreakers, the wild-card games are scheduled to take place on Friday, October 5. The winners of those games will then advance to the Division Series to take on the teams with the best record in the National League and American League, respectively.
Selig described the additional wild cards as "increas[ing] the rewards of a division championship and allow[ing] two additional markets to experience playoff baseball each year, all while maintaining the most exclusive postseason in professional sports."
2. Division Series
The basic premise of the Division Series remains unchanged from when it was introduced in 1994: Four teams in each league compete in five-game series to advance to the League Championship Series.
However, the new wild-card format has resulted in some changes to the former first round. Now, the division winner with the best record will automatically play the wild-card winner, regardless of whether the teams are in the same division. In the past, two teams from the same division could not meet in the Division Series, regardless of their records. In addition, instead of a 2-2-1 format with respect to home games, for this year only it will be 2-3, with the higher-seeded team starting on the road to allow the wild-card winners to start their series at home. This temporarily schedule change was necessary because the television schedule was already in place before the deal to expand the playoffs was finalized, and, as a result, the regular format would not have been able to have the traditional extra travel day before a potential deciding fifth game.
The two Division Series matchups that do not involve a wild-card winner are scheduled to begin on Saturday, October 6, while the other two series, pitting the top seeds against the wild-card winners, will begin on Sunday, October 7.
3. League Championship Series
Despite the changes to the playoffs in 2012, nothing changes with respect to the League Championship Series, which pit the final two teams in the American League and National League against one another, each with a shot at the World Series. In this round, the series are seven games, with the first team to win four advancing to represent its league. In terms of home games, this round follows a 2-3-2 format.
The American League Championship Series is scheduled to begin on Saturday, October 13, and Game 1 of the National League Championship Series is scheduled to take place the next day. A possible Game 7 of the American League series would be scheduled for Sunday, October 21, while a potential Game 7 of the NLCS would be Monday, October 22.
4. World Series
The 2012 Fall Classic is scheduled to begin on Wednesday, October 24, at the stadium of the National League champions. This, of course, is because of the National League's win in the All-Star Game back in July. As with the League Championship Series, the World Series is played with a 2-3-2 format, with the American League champion getting Games 3-5 in its stadium. If necessary, a Game 7 would take place in the National League ballpark on November 1.
It will be interesting to see the effect of the new format on the results of the playoffs. Will it become that much harder for a wild-card winner to take home the World Series crown? Or will an underdog once again emerge?
Del Pearson is a huge baseball fan and follows intently throughout the season. His favorite time of year is the fall when playoff chases heat up. You can follow Del on Twitter @DelPearson2.
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