It may feel like Major League Baseball's regular season has just begun, but the 60-game regular season is now less than two weeks away from completion. The campaign will end on Sept. 27, with the expanded postseason scheduled to begin days later, on Sept. 29. You can find the latest playoff picture here.
Because the postseason never seemed guaranteed to happen, given the ongoing pandemic and whatnot, abstaining from learning the complexities of the altered playoff structure was a defensible position. Now, though, with the tournament arriving in a matter of weeks, now is the time to get up to speed with what a reimagined and bloated October will entail.
With that in mind, we've put together the primer below, which we hope will be a handy resource.
Who makes the postseason?
In a typical season with a 10-team playoff format, the three division winners would earn byes into the Divisional Round, with the two wild card teams facing each other in a single-game playoff. The Wild Card Game winner would then advance to play a best-of-five series against the league's top seed, and so on.
That won't be the case this October. Rather, eight teams in each league, more than half of the majors, will make the playoffs, with the first round being called the "Wild Card Series." Those eight comprise the division winners (who will be the top three seeds regardless of their records), the second-place teams in each division, and then the two teams with the best records beyond those six clubs, no matter their divisional alignment or their position within those divisions.
What is the Wild Card round?
Based on the Wild Card Game, you might think the Wild Card round employs a single-game format. It doesn't, but it is a departure from the approaches used in the subsequent rounds. The Wild Card round will feature eight best-of-three series: No. 1 vs. No. 8, No. 2 vs. No. 7, No. 3 vs. No. 6, and No. 4 vs. No. 5. The higher seed will host all of the games in this round.
The Wild Card round winners will then embark on what amounts to the traditional postseason. There will be a best-of-five divisional series, a best-of-seven championship series, and then, obviously, a best-of-seven World Series. The teams -- as of now -- are set to split hosting duties in those series.
Will the postseason be played in a bubble?
Most of it will be. The Wild Card Series will be conducted at the higher seed's ballpark. After that, the NLDS, ALDS, and subsequent rounds will be conducted at one of four neutral sites.
In the American League, the two Divisional Series will be hosted in California. The winners of the first-round matchups between the Nos. 1 and 8 and the Nos. 4 and 5 series will play in Petco Park, home of the San Diego Padres. The winners of the first-round matchups between the Nos. 2 and 7 and the Nos. 3 and 6 matchups will play at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles.
Over in the National League, the Divisional Series will be hosted in Texas. The winners of the first-round matchups between the Nos. 1 and 8 and the Nos. 4 and 5 series will play at Globe Life Park, home of the Texas Rangers. The winners of the first-round matchups between the Nos. 2 and 7 and the Nos. 3 and 6 matchups will play at Minute Maid Park in Houston.
Petco Park will serve as the host for the AL Championship Series, while Globe Life Park will host both, the NL Championship Series and the World Series.
It seems like the logical approach. COVID-19 remains uncontrolled across the United States, and the league would be facing a logistical nightmare if a series had to be postponed for several days (at minimum) because of a positive test in a traveling party.
Again, MLB has given itself only one day between the end of the regular season and the start of the playoffs. As a result, the league will not have tiebreaker games. All ties will be decided mathematically, based on either head-to-head record, intradivisional record, and so on. If need be, MLB would eventually resort to teams' divisional records in their last 20-plus games.
When is the World Series?
Game 1 of the 2020 World Series is scheduled to happen on Oct. 20. Game 7, if one is necessary, would occur on Oct. 28.
Is this going to be the new reality?
Certainly not all of the above will remain in place heading forward. It wouldn't be too surprising to see the owners push to keep the expanded postseason, if only because of the additional revenue it would generate at the gates and through broadcast deals. The other aspects, specifically the tiebreaker angle, seem more likely to revert once the pandemic is controlled.