The new 2022 MLB playoff format explained: How many teams, wild cards, games...
From ‘Wild Card Series,’ to expanded slate of teams, join us for a look at the changes that were made and the ones that weren’t.
With the 2022 MLB postseason almost upon us, it’s time to take a look at the new format that will make its debut this year following the negotiation of a ‘kinda’ new collective bargaining agreement.
What’s changed in the MLB playoffs?
Off the bat, we’ve gone from 10 teams to 12 and on top of that, we’ve also seen the replacement of the Wild Card Game with a best-of-three Wild Card Series, which actually also doubles as the opening round. To be clear, with the aforementioned expansion to include two additional teams, both leagues have added a wild-card spot. With that said, let’s get into all the other alterations that have got everybody raving:
To begin with, both division winners i.e., the two teams with the best records, will be granted a first-round bye. What would that look like? In the NL this year for example, we’ve got the Dodgers and most likely the Braves in the NL East, who will be given an express ticket to the best-of-five Division Series. On the other side of the divide in the American League, the Houston Astros and the New York Yankees have got their hands on a similar deal.
As for the rest, the remaining division winner in each league is automatically ranked as the No. 3 seed. That means, they’ll face off against the bottom wild-card team in the opening round. Again, for the purpose of clarity, NL Central champion St. Louis Cardinals will be taking on the No. 6 seed - probably the Philadelphia Phillies in the Wild Card Series, while the top wild-card team/No. 4 seed (likely the Mets), gets a date with the second wild-card team/No. 5 seed, which for the moment appears to be the San Diego Padres. Logically, the AL will follow the exact same format. That’s to say the Astros and Yankees will have byes, while No. 3 seed Cleveland Guardians are set to face the No. 6 seed - likely the Seattle Mariners. To round that out, we’ve got the No. 4 seed Blue Jays set to take on the No. 5 seed Tampa Bay Rays. Assuming nothing changes of course. If there is one thing to note about this setup, it’s that the higher seed in each of the Wild Card Series will host all of the games.
As we now know, the owner-implemented lockout during the spring pushed resulted in a significant delay of the regular season’s start. This of course, led to a calendar that was jam packed. Consider for a moment, that the season won’t end until tomorrow, Wednesday 5th, October. Then there is also the fact that as we just explained, we’ve now got two extra teams. What does that mean? There will be a reduction in postseason off days.
How does that look? Quite simply, the best-of-three Wild Card Series will be played on three consecutive days. That’s to say there are no off days during any of the opening round series. Additionally, there will also be no off days between Games 4 and 5 of the Division Series or even between Games 5 and 6 of the League Championship Series. It will be interesting to see how that issue will be addressed if/when two teams from opposite coasts meet. Indeed, travel could pose a problem. Where the World Series is concerned, it will follow the traditional 2-3-2 format with off days between Games 2 and 3 and Games 5 and 6. That means that if the 2022 World Series goes to seven games, we’ll be watching baseball on the night of November 5th.
If there is one notable difference in the playoff rulebook, it’s that MLB won’t be including the rule concerning an automatic runner on second when a game goes to extra innings. The rule was of course introduced a few seasons ago, in an effort to reduce long running games as well as the burden it placed on pitchers. Where the playoffs are concerned, however, the game will simply carry on until one team wins. Also worth a mention, is the universal designated hitter rule. Indeed, both AL and NL teams have been allowed to use a DH and it appears MLB intends to continue with that framework in the postseason.
Lastly, we should remind you that rosters will have 26 players and just in case you weren’t sure, the now infamous proposed changes for the 2023 season will not be taking effect in this year’s playoffs. So, you don’t have to worry about whether or not there will be a pitch clock, larger bases or even the removal of infield shifts. You can look forward to the post season being the way it always was, except a few more teams, no breaks, and home team advantage. Enjoy!