Major League Baseball’s postseason will expand to 10 teams from eight starting this year by adding a one-game wild-card playoff in each league.
An extra tier of playoffs had been agreed upon in baseball’s labor contract approved in December, meaning one- third of the sport’s 30 teams now will qualify for the postseason. Under the new format, five teams each from the American and National leagues make the postseason.
It’s the first change to baseball’s postseason format since 1994. The first playoffs played under that format took place in 1995.
“The enthusiasm for the 10-team structure among our clubs, fans and partners has been overwhelming,” Commissioner Bud Selig said yesterday in a statement released by MLB. “This change increases the rewards of a division championship and allows two additional markets to experience playoff baseball each year, all while maintaining the most exclusive postseason in professional sports.”
Twelve of the 32 teams in the National Football League reach the postseason. Sixteen of the 30 teams in the National Basketball Association and the National Hockey League make the playoffs each season.
The 2012 baseball schedule was set prior to the extra playoff round being agreed upon when the owners and players announced a new collective bargaining agreement on Nov. 22, making it difficult to fit the changes into the upcoming season without pushing it deeper into the autumn. After lengthy discussions between baseball’s owners and players, accommodations were made for just the 2012 campaign.
The three division winners in each baseball league will get a first-round bye, while the two non-division winners with the best records will meet to decide the final spot in each league.
The five-game division series in 2012 will begin with two home contests for the lower seeds and then up to three home games for the higher seeds, eliminating the need for a travel day prior to a possible Game 5. The previous format of having two home games for the higher seed followed by two for the lower seed and a decisive Game 5 at the higher seed’s stadium will return in 2013.
“It took a lot of hard work for both sides to try to figure out a way to make it happen,” Michael Weiner, executive director of the players’ union, said on a conference call. “A bunch of players and a bunch of people on the owners’ side put their heads together and figured out a way, mutually, to solve a problem.”
Playoffs Within Division
In a departure from past postseason rules, the winner of the one-game wild-card playoff will advance to face the league’s top team regardless of whether those two teams play in the same division, Weiner said. Previous rules prohibited wild-card winners from playing within their own division to open the playoffs.
The postseason format goes into place before baseball’s realignment in 2013, when the Houston Astros move to the AL after 51 years in the NL. The shift will balance the number of teams in each league at 15 and set up three five-team divisions in each league.
“By moving to 15-team leagues and more importantly five- team divisions, players wanted to enhance the importance of winning the division and this structure does that,” Weiner said.
If the new format had been in place last season, the Boston Red Sox would have made the playoffs as the No. 5 team in the AL behind the Tampa Bay Rays and the three division winners: the New York Yankees, Detroit Tigers and Texas Rangers.
The Rays and Red Sox would have played a one-game playoff to determine the AL’s fourth division series representative.
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