Get ready, baseball fans.
The postseason is just weeks away, and it’s sure to be packed with memorable moments as teams vie for a spot in the World Series.
As the regular season for Major League Baseball (MLB) winds down, playoffs excitement and anticipation are on the rise.
Starting last year, the MLB adopted a new playoff format. Many fans are still getting used to the changes, which is why we’ve put together this handy guide to the MLB postseason.
Wondering how the Wild Card Series works? Curious about how many teams make the MLB playoffs? Find answers to your MLB postseason format questions and get details on how recent format changes will affect the playoffs.
How does the MLB postseason work?
The MLB postseason takes place after the conclusion of the 162-game regular season. Each team’s record from the regular season determines their ranking, with the top teams continuing to play during the postseason.
Teams compete in a bracket format to advance to the next round of the playoffs. When a team loses a round, they are eliminated from postseason play.
The postseason culminates in the World Series, which follows a best-of-seven format. The two teams participating in the World Series are the American League (AL) champion and National League (NL) champion. The winner receives the Commissioner’s Trophy and is crowned the best MLB team for that year.
What is the MLB playoff format?
The playoff format is the method used to determine which team earns the top spot in the league for the season.
The MLB uses a bracket format with seeded teams to determine which matchups take place. Seeding also determines which team gets the home-field advantage for those matchups.
What is the 2023 MLB playoff format?
In 2023, there are found rounds in the MLB playoffs:
- Wild Card Series (best of three)
- Division Series (best of five)
- League Championship Series (best of seven)
- World Series (best of seven)
What is the length of the MLB playoffs?
The MLB playoffs typically last about one month. For 2023, the postseason begins on October 3 and will end in late October or early November, depending on how many games are needed to determine the World Series winner.
The number of games in the MLB playoffs varies depending on the outcomes of individual matchups since each round requires a certain number of wins for a team to move on to the next stage.
For example, each league has a best-of-seven League Championship Series, meaning that the first team to net four wins becomes the league champion. The AL winner might be determined in just four games, while the NL winner may not get their fourth win until game seven.
The highest possible number of games in the MLB playoffs is 53, and the lowest number of possible games is 32.
Major changes to the MLB playoff format
When the 2016 collective bargaining agreement between the MLB and the Major League Baseball Players Association (MLBPA) expired on December 2, 2021, it marked the beginning of the ninth work stoppage in MLB history. It wasn’t resolved until March 10, 2022.
The results of the new collective bargaining agreement included some changes to the MLB playoff format, including more teams, more games, and the elimination of Game 163 as a tiebreaker.
The expansion of the playoff format to include 12 teams instead of only 10 is one of the biggest changes to affect the MLB postseason. The MLB had hoped to get a 14-team postseason during the 2021-2022 lockout, but compromised with a 12-team format.
A greater number of teams competing in the postseason for a chance at the World Series title means more excitement in the last few weeks of the regular season. Because more teams have a shot at getting into the playoffs, fans have an even greater stake in seeing how their team performs as the regular season comes to a close.
Previously, a single-elimination Wild Card Game format was used to determine which Wild Card teams would advance to the Division Series. This has been replaced by a Wild Card Series with a best-of-three format, increasing the total number of games happening during the MLB playoffs.
Generally, fans like this format because it gives them more games to watch. It also gives Wild Card teams a fairer shot at a chance to advance since the outcome isn’t determined by a single game.
Game 163 tiebreaker
Before last year, a tiebreaker game was used when two teams eligible for the playoffs ended the year with the same record. Teams usually play 162 games in a regular season, so the name “Game 163” was used to refer to this tiebreaking matchup.
As of 2022, Game 163 isn’t used as a tiebreaker. When two teams have the same record at the conclusion of the regular MLB season, their rankings are now determined by the following statistical factors:
- Head-to-head record
- Intradivision record (within their division)
- Interdivision record (against teams outside their division)
- Last half of intraleague games
- Last half of intraleague games plus one (outcome of the last game of the first half of intraleague games, continued until the better record is determined)
What is the new 12-team playoff format in the MLB?
Beginning in 2022, the MLB moved to a 12-team postseason format. This includes six teams from the National League (NL) and six teams from the American League (AL).
This change was made as part of the new collective bargaining agreement between the MLB and the Players Association which expanded the playoffs from 10 teams to 12. This agreement expires in 2026, and many expect a push for a 14-team postseason when that happens.
How are the MLB playoffs determined?
With a 12-team system, six teams from each league participate in the playoffs: three division winners and three Wild Card teams. Those teams are ranked as follows:
- #1 seed: Best league record
- #2 seed: Second-best division winner
- #3 seed: Third-best division winner
- #4 seed: Best record among Wild Card teams (non-division winners)
- #5 seed: Second-best record among Wild Card teams
- #6 seed: Third-best record among Wild Card teams
There are three divisions in each league, with five teams in each division. The National League has NL East, NL Central and NL West. The American League has AL East, AL Central and AL West.
What is the order of baseball playoffs?
There are three main parts of the playoffs which determine who enters the World Series: the Wild Card Series, the Division Series and the League Championship Series.
Wild Card Series
As part of the new format for the playoffs introduced in 2022, a best-of-three Wild Card Series is held for each league.
The #3 seed plays the #6 seed, and the #4 seed plays the #5 seed. The higher seeds in each matchup (#3 and #4) have the home-field advantage for all the Wild Card games.
The Wild Card games are held over a three-day window, with the winners of each matchup advancing directly to the Division Series and the losers eliminated from postseason play. The short time frame for the Wild Card Series minimizes the time off for the teams which have already advanced automatically to the Division Series based on their records.
There is no reseeding after the Wild Card round, which means that the winners of those matchups already know who they’ll face should they advance to the Division Series.
Four teams get a first-round bye for the playoffs, meaning that their first postseason game is part of the Division Series. Those teams are the #1 and #2 seeds in each league, with the #1 seed having the best regular season record and the #2 seed having the second-best record.
These teams face off against the teams who won their matchup in the Wild Card Series. Each league’s #1 seed will play the winner of #4 vs. #5, and the #2 seed will face the winner of #3 vs. #6.
There is a 2-2-1 format for the best-of-five Division Series. Each matchup starts at the home field of the seed with the better record (#1 and #2).
The first team to achieve three wins in each matchup advances to the League Championship Series.
League Championship Series
The League Championship Series is the semifinal round of the MLB playoffs. Each league has its own series: the American League Championship Series (ALCS) and National League Championship Series (NLCS).
This part of the playoff format has not been changed in recent years. It continues to have a best-of-seven format, and the team with the better record from the regular season gets the home-field advantage.
2023 MLB postseason predictions
So, who’s in contention to make it to the playoffs this year?
There are a number of teams currently considered top prospects for a playoff berth. As of late August, some of the leaders in the American League include:
- Baltimore Orioles
- Tampa Bay Rays
- Toronto Blue Jays
- Minnesota Twins
- Cleveland Guardians
- Detroit Tigers
- Seattle Mariners
- Texas Rangers
- Houston Astros
In the National League, leaders as of late August include:
- Atlanta Braves
- Philadelphia Phillies
- Miami Marlins
- Milwaukee Brewers
- Chicago Cubs
- Cincinnati Reds
- Los Angeles Dodgers
- Arizona Diamondbacks
- San Francisco Giants
Among these teams, the Braves, Rangers, Dodgers and Orioles currently have the best shot at participating in the postseason. With only a matter of weeks until the postseason officially begins on October 3, their seed numbers will be determined soon.
So far, the Oakland Athletics (AL West) are the only team which has already been eliminated from playoff contention based on their record. Some of the teams which currently have low chances of advancing past the regular season include the New York Yankees, Kansas City Royals, New York Mets, St. Louis Cardinals, San Diego Padres and Colorado Rockies.