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With a shortened 60-game season in the books, MLB’s postseason begins Tuesday, and it isn’t the format you’re used to.
Part experiment, part response to the condensed season’s competitive quirks, baseball’s playoffs will feature more teams than ever before — and take place under unprecedented conditions.
Before it gets going, here are the answers to some big questions you might be wondering about.
How many teams are in and how does the seeding work?
The MLB postseason will feature 16 teams — eight from each league.
The top three seeds in each league will be the three division winners in order of record. The next three seeds (Nos. 4-6) will be the three teams that finish in second place in their division, in order of record. The final two seeds (Nos. 7-8) will be the teams with the two best records among the remaining teams in each league.
In the newly created Wild Card Series, the higher-seeded team will host the entire best-of-three series. For example, the No. 1 seed will play and host No. 8. The No. 2 will play and host No. 7, and so on.
So teams don’t get to pick their opponents?
That's a big no.
Though there were reports suggesting the top three seeds would be allowed to choose their Wild Card Series opponents, MLB ultimately decided against implementing that rule.
Is this sticking around after 2020?
While it's unlikely MLB will keep a 16-team postseason format in place, it's just as unlikely the league will go back to the 10-team format that was instituted in 2012. MLB commissioner Rob Manfred says there was a push from owners to expand the postseason even before the 2020 season, so something in the 12- to 14-team range seems likely for 2021. He told USA Today he prefers a 14-team postseason where the top seeds in each league get a bye.
What else will look different from a normal postseason?
The addition of the Wild Card Series means MLB will be squeezing an extra 16 to 24 games into the postseason schedule, which will significantly limit off days and lag time. Once the Wild Card Series opens on Sept. 29, there are only three days without the potential for games before the World Series begins on Oct. 20.
Notably, there will not be off days within any series until the World Series, which could seriously alter pitching strategies employed in recent years. More on that later.
Travel will also be limited in October. The Wild Card Series will be played entirely in the higher-seeded teams’ home ballparks. The winning teams will advance to the postseason bubble. - Mark Townsend
Well, sort of. This isn’t the stringent setup the NBA and NHL have used, and MLB is not calling them bubbles. Instead, they are neutral sites. The American League postseason will be set up in Southern California, with Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles hosting one ALDS and Petco Park in San Diego hosting the other ALDS and the entire ALCS.
The National League side will be held in Texas, with Minute Maid Park in Houston hosting one NLDS and Globe Life Field in Arlington hosting the other NLDS, the NLCS and eventually the entire World Series.
So will home-field advantage be a thing?
Not really. The Wild Card Series, the only round happening at teams’ home fields, has a definite advantage for the higher-seeded team, but after that? Things get weird.
Even though L.A. and San Diego are postseason sites, the Dodgers and Padres won’t play there because they’ll be on the opposite side of the bracket. Admittedly, it will be a little funky if the Dodgers are playing in Texas while the Astros are playing at Dodger Stadium.
The actual advantage may be teams not having to travel as much. A team like the A’s, for instance, can play in California until the World Series. - Mike Oz
What about the universal DH and extra innings?
The universal designated hitter will continue into the postseason. However, the rule that put a runner on second base to begin each extra frame in the 2020 regular season will not carry over.
Will there be fans?
Though no official announcement has been made, MLB is reportedly moving forward with plans to have a limited number of fans attend the NLCS and World Series in Texas. The final decision will rest with local government officials, who would have to approve MLB's protocols.
Worth noting, the Dallas Cowboys were allowed to have 20 percent of their massive stadium filled for Week 1 of the NFL season. That bodes well for MLB's bid given the close proximity of Globe Life Field and AT&T Stadium. - Mark Townsend
How will MLB’s shortened schedule affect things?
Actually, one fascinating storyline this postseason is that most of the teams haven’t played each other. Since the season was regional — with teams only playing their division and the corresponding division in the other league — we haven’t seen the best teams from the West, for instance, playing the best from the East. A few divisions are stacked with postseason teams (the NL and AL Central), so now we’ll see whether they’re all good, or all mediocre. - Mike Oz
Will we see openers or any other strategic quirk?
Very possibly — the Dodgers have been using star rookie pitcher Dustin May behind openers the past few weeks, seemingly in preparation for a potential postseason tactic. But the main thing to know about strategy this October is how … un-October-like it could be.
Up until the World Series, every round will be played with no off days in between games. So the extra rest that usually allows teams to lean more heavily on their top pitchers — as the 2018 Red Sox and especially the 2019 Nationals did en route to championships — will not exist in 2020. This means, generally, it will feel more like the regular season. Bullpen depth will be more important, and starters might have a longer leash to work through trouble.
Does this format make the path to a championship easier or harder for favorites like the Los Angeles Dodgers?
Harder. The expanded bracket doesn’t make them worse, but it does render their juggernaut status less important. Shorter series leave more room for randomness or luck to overpower gaps in true talent.
Before MLB announced the postseason format change, FanGraphs gave the Dodgers, projected to be MLB’s best team with 36 wins, a 19.5 percent chance at winning the World Series. With the 16-team change factored in, those odds dropped to 14.9 percent. Even after the Dodgers ran roughshod over their schedule and finished with 43 wins, they have only boosted their title odds back to 19.5 percent.
Simply put, there are more teams with a small shot at a Cinderella run. And it is possible that could come at the expense of a juggernaut. - Zach Crizer
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