It’s only fitting that one of the most unique regular seasons in MLB history would be accompanied by one of the most intriguing playoff formats in recent memory.
As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, MLB fans were treated to a unique schedule for 2020 from the time play resumed in July to the season’s end in September.
Teams only played 60 games at most, with some teams playing less than others depending on postponements and cancellations due to positive COVID-19 tests. No fans were in attendance throughout the regular season, with cardboard cutouts, virtual fans and fake crowd noise used in an attempt to fill the void in the stands.
Doubleheaders featured two seven-inning games, with new rules for extra innings forcing players and coaches to adapt even more.
So, it’s no surprise that even more change would be necessary by the time the 2020 MLB playoffs came around at the end of the regular season. In July, the league announced that MLB and the MLBPA had agreed to an expanded postseason format for the 2020 season, increasing the field to 16 teams.
Then, on September 15, the league officially announced the start dates for both the postseason and the 2020 World Series, with a few notable details to factor in as it relates to adaptions made due to COVID-19.
The Wild Card round, starting on Tuesday, September 29, will take place at the higher seeds’ respective ballparks, helping to set the stage for the usual eight-team field for the American League and National League Division Series.
Once the ALDS and NLDS begin, things start to get interesting, as the league shifts towards a “bubble” format. The two American League series will take place in California, with San Diego playing host to one series and Los Angeles serving as the home for the other.
Meanwhile, the National League will take up residence in Texas, as two teams head to Arlington and the other two move to Houston.
The four locations allow for a true “neutral site” for every team involved, with the American League using two National League ballparks, and the National League utilizing two American League ballparks.
San Diego will then host the American League Championship Series, while Arlington will serve as the venue for the National League Championship, along with the 2020 World Series.
Unfortunately for Texas Rangers fans, the potential for a hometown team in the World Series disappeared when the Rangers’ playoff hopes dissipated, therefore eliminating any bias when the Fall Classic rolls around.
On the other hand, a team will officially win the World Series in Arlington for the first time since 2010, when the San Francisco Giants took down the Rangers in five games and clinched the series on the road.
For reference, then-Giants rookie Madison Bumgarner was just 21 years old and recording W’s on the mound, and Giants mainstay and star catcher Buster Posey was named National League Rookie of the Year.
With the “bubbles” in play for the first year of the expanded postseason bracket, don’t be surprised if a lower-seeded team takes advantage of the circumstances, and benefits from a lack of travel or any homefield advantage.
Teams with losing records could go on long playoff runs and shock the world in the process, while teams like the Cincinnati Reds could take advantage of the shortened season and make some noise in the playoffs for the first time since 2013, or the Miami Marlins for the first time since 2003.
The new “bubbles” and postseason format as a whole add on a whole layer of wrinkles to the historic 2020 season, all while keeping things as fair and even as possible for all teams involved.
Take a look at the full bracket and Wild Card matchups here, courtesy of the MLB on FOX team: