MLB postseason starts when the regular season games (162 games) are over, usually in the first week of October. October baseball, also known as the “Fall Classic”, is some of the best baseball there is. But how do you know which teams get to play in the postseason? And what is a wild card?
To fully understand which teams get to play in the postseason, you need to understand the MLB Standings. Read MLB Standings 101.
When the regular season games are over, each teams’ win-loss record will show who gets to play in the postseason. Looking at the MLB Standings, the team with the best record in each division is guaranteed a spot in the postseason. This is a total of 6 teams, 3 in each league. There are also two wild card teams chosen from each league. After the 3 guaranteed teams are taken out of the league, the next two teams with the best record in each league will be the wild card teams in the postseason.
For example this is the MLB division standings after the 2012 season:
According to the 2012 standings, the guaranteed postseason teams are the New York Yankees, Detroit Tigers, Oakland Athletics (As) in the American League; and the Washington Nationals, Cincinnati Reds, and San Francisco Giants in the National League. The wild card teams in the American League are the Baltimore Orioles and the Texas Rangers having a record of 93-69. In the National League the wild card teams will be the Atlanta Braves with the record of 94-68, and the St. Louis Cardinals with a 88-74 record.
If there are any tied records the teams will play a tiebreaker game to claim a spot in the postseason. If both teams will contain a postseason spot regardless and a tiebreaker game is not necessary, then a list of tiebreakers will be taken into account to determine which team contains the higher spot. The tiebreakers are:
- Head-to-head winning percentage during the regular season / series winner – This is the team that won the most regular season games when the two teams played each other.
- Higher winning percentage in intradivision games – The team with the best winning percentage in their own division. In other words the team that won the most regular season games played against other teams in their own division.
- Higher winning percentage in the last half of intraleague games – The team with the best winning percentage in their league during the last half of the season. In other words the team that won the most regular season games played in the last half of the season against teams in the same league.
- Higher winning percentage in the last half plus one intraleague game, provided that such additional game was not between the two tied clubs. Continue to go back one intraleague game at a time until the tie has been broken. – The team with the highest percentage of wins in the last half of the regular season, including the last game of the first half of the season played against a team in the same league. These games do not include any games the two tied teams played against each other in the regular season. If the teams are still tied 1 intraleague game will be added to the percentage until the tie is broken. (Tiebreakers were taken from MLB.com with my explanations)
The home-field advantage is given to the team with the higher record. This means the team with the higher record will get more games played on their home field than the team with the smaller record. If the two teams are tied then the list of tiebreakers will be used to determine which team will get home field advantage. But as the series progress the home-field advantage rules change. I will explain as I explain each series in the Postseason Series section.
First, each league will play the teams in their own league until only one team in left. Then that team will play the team of the other league in the final series of the postseason. For each league, the team with the best record will take the 1st seed, the second best record is the 2nd seed and the 3rd best record will have the 3rd seed. To start the postseason the two wild cards in each league will play one another. The winner of that game will move on to the first full round of the MLB playoffs. The wild card team will play the 1st seed, and the 2nd seed will play the 3rd.
To further understand the matchups here is a look at the 2012 bracket before the postseason started:
There are 4 series/rounds in the MLB postseason:
- Wild Card – The two wild card teams in each division will play each other in 1 game, a winner-take-all game. This game will take place on the home field of the team with the higher record. The winner of that game will move on to the division series.
- Division Series: American League Division Series (ALDS) and National League Division Series (NLDS) – The 1st seed team will play the wild card team, and the 2nd seed will play the 3rd seed in a best-of-five series. The first team to win 3 games will advance to the league conference series. The home-field advantage is given to the team with the higher record. There are two different formats to play this series, 2-2-1 or 2-3. Usually it is the 2-2-1 format where the team with home-field advantage will host games 1, 2 and 5; and the other team will host games 3 and 4. This year, 2012, the format was changed to 2-3. The 2-3 format is when the team with home-field advantage will host games 3, 4, and 5; and the opposing team will host games 1 and 2.
- Conference Series: American League Conference Series (ALCS) and National League Conference Series (NLCS) – The two teams in each league will play each other in a best-of-seven series. This means the first team to win 4 games will progress to the World Series. In this series the home-field advantage is given to the team with the higher record unless a wild card team has advanced and is playing a division winning team with a lower record, in which the home-field advantage is given to the division winning team. This series is played in a 2-3-2 format. The team with home-field advantage will host games 1, 2, 6, and 7; while the opposing team hosts games 3, 4, and 5.
- World Series Championship – the conference series winners, or league winners, will play each other in a best-of-seven series played in the same 2-3-2 format. The first team to win 4 games will be the season champions. In this series the home-field advantage is given to the league that won the All-Star game played earlier that year. The team with home-field advantage will host games 1, 2, 6, and 7; while the opposing team hosts games 3, 4, and 5.
The winner of the World Series is the Championship team for that season. The winners are presented with the Commissioner’s Trophy after the last game is played.