MLB Playoffs: Which Teams Will Benefit Most From New Format?

An already unprecedented MLB season became even more unique on Thursday night, after the league and the MLB Players Association (MLBPA) agreed to implement a new postseason format.

The first playoffs expansion since 2012 will see 16 teams qualifying for the postseason and the introduction of a three-game first round to replace the single-game wild-card format.

"This season will be a sprint to a new format that will allow more fans to experience playoff baseball," commissioner Rob Manfred said in a statement.

"We look forward to a memorable postseason concluding a year like no other."

The MLB had first floated the proposal as it negotiated with the MLBPA the details of a shortened season to cope with the novel coronavirus pandemic, which forced the league to postpone Opening Day by four months.

The players' union eventually ended negotiations last month and instructed the MLB to unilaterally determine the schedule.

On Thursday, the campaign finally got underway, but the regular season will consist of just 60 games as opposed to the traditional 162-game slate.

Here's all you need to know about the new postseason format.

What are the main changes in the new MLB playoff format?

The number of teams reaching the playoffs has been increased from 10 to 16, meaning the top two teams in both the American League and the National League will qualify for the postseason, along with the two best remaining teams in each league.

The expansion of the postseason means the single-game wild-card round used to determine the fourth team competing in the Division Series in both the American League and the National League has also been scrapped.

The first round of the playoffs will now feature four three-game series in each of the two leagues, with the higher-seeded teams playing every game at home. From then on, the postseason will follow its traditional format, with the two best-of-five division series in each league, followed by best-of-seven American League and National League Championship Series. The World Series will also follow the usual seven-game format.

How will the teams be seeded?

The first three seeds in each league will go to the three division winners followed by the three runner-ups, while the remaining two teams will be the seventh and eighth seeds. The first-round pairings will follow the same format of the NBA playoffs, with the top-ranked team taking on the lowest-ranked team, while the No. 2 team faces the No. 7 team and the No. 3 seed faces the No. 6 seed. Seeds No. 4 and No.5 will play each other.

Intriguingly, according to ESPN's MLB insider Buster Olney, as part of the expanded post-season the three division winners in each league will pick their first-round opponents in a televised show.

Washington Nationals, World Series, MLB
The Washington Nationals celebrate after defeating the Houston Astros 6-2 in Game Seven to win the 2019 World Series at Minute Maid Park on October 30, 2019 in Houston, Texas. Bob Levey/Getty

Who will benefit from the changes?

Broadly speaking, an expanded postseason is always seen as diluting the competitiveness of the playoffs and the principle holds true given that over half of the MLB's 30 franchises will earn a postseason berth this year.

According to research from Elias Sports Bureau, had the new format been in place between 1995 to 2019, 46 teams with a record of .500 or below would have qualified for the postseason, at an average of just under two per season.

Had the format been in place last time out, for example, the Texas Rangers would have made the playoffs, despite going 78-84 in the regular season. The New York Mets, Chicago Cubs, and Boston Red Sox would have also all qualified for the postseason, despite finishing third in their divisions.

At the same time, the expanded postseason places potentially lethal traps in the path of behemoths such as the New York Yankees and the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Both teams would have expected to start their postseason in the Division Series but will now have to negotiate a tricky first round. All it takes to upset the status quo is a team getting hot at the right time, or one of the favorite teams suffering an untimely injury.

Players will also benefit from the expanded postseason, with a $50 million pool to be distributed after each round.

Will the changes remain in place for next season?

As it stands, there are no indications the MLB will implement the same playoff format for next season.