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Major League Baseball postseason

"Major League Baseball playoffs" redirects here. For tie-breaker games, see List of Major League Baseball tie-breakers.

The Major League Baseball postseason is an elimination tournament held after the conclusion of the MLB regular season. As of 2012, the playoffs for each league—American and National—consist of: a one-game wild-card playoff between two wild card teams; two best-of-five Division Series featuring the wild-card winner and the winner of each division; and finally the best-of-seven League Championship Series. The winners of the American League Championship Series and the National League Championship Series face each other in the best-of-seven World Series.

Format history

Before 1969: One round

Major League Baseball is the oldest of America's major professional sports organizations, with roots dating back to the 1870s. As such, it is steeped in tradition. The final series to determine its champion has been called the "World Series" (originally "World's Championship Series" and then "World's Series") as far back as the National League's contests with the American Association starting at the beginning of the 1880s.

In 1903, the two modern Major League Baseball leagues began annual postseason play with a one-round system in which the American League team with the best record faced the National League team with the best record in a best-of-seven series (in 1903, 1919, 1920, and 1921 it was best-of-nine) called the World Series; however, there was no 1904 Series because the National League Champion, the New York Giants, refused to play. This single-tiered approach persisted through 1968, even with the expansions of 1961-1962 that expanded both leagues to 10 teams.

1969–1993: Two rounds

In 1969, both leagues expanded to twelve teams, which made it more difficult to compete for a league championship because there were more teams competing for the AL and NL pennants. In addition, teams would play other clubs in their own division more than clubs in the other division, creating an unbalanced schedule that in some years could give a team from one division an advantage in fighting for a single pennant. To remedy this, and imitating the other major sports' long-standing playoff traditions, Major League Baseball split each league into Eastern and Western divisions, creating four divisions overall and no worse than a sixth place finish for any team in any division until later expansions in 1977 and 1993. This created a new postseason round, which was dubbed the League Championship Series (LCS), a best-of-five series. In 1985 the LCS was expanded to a best-of-seven series.

1994–2011: Three rounds

By 1994, further expansion was making it very difficult for a team to make the postseason. Major League Baseball went through a realignment, expanding to three divisions (Eastern, Central, Western) in each league. However, only allowing divisional winners in the postseason would make an odd number of teams in each league, three. To rectify the odd number of teams, the league added wild-cards to each league, imitating the original post-merger NFL system. The wild-card team would be the team with the best record in each league of all the teams that did not win their division. Splitting the leagues into three divisions, plus the addition of a wild-card team, doubled the postseason contenders in each league from two to four, and from four teams overall to eight. The additional teams meant another elimination round was necessary. This new round would become the new first round of the postseason, the best-of-five Division Series. This term had first been used for the extra round required in 1981 due to the "split-season" scheduling anomaly following the midseason baseball players strike. This format was in place for the 1994 season, but the players' strike canceled the postseason. The format was realized on the field in 1995.

Under this format, the wild card team played the top-seeded divisional champion in the Division Series, unless the two teams were in the same division, in which case the wild card team played the second-seeded divisional champion; in both cases the remaining two teams from that league played each other in the other Division Series. The winners of the two Division Series from each league went on to play each other in the League Championship Series. As with the previous postseason format, the winners of each League Championship Series met in the World Series.

2012–present: Expanded wild card

With the adoption of the new collective bargaining agreement in November 2011, baseball commissioner Bud Selig announced that a new playoff system would begin within two years; the change was ultimately put into place in 2012.[1] The format chosen was the one-game Wild Card playoff.

Under this format, a second wild card team has been added to each league, i.e., the team with the second-highest win total in each league among non-division winners. The two wild card teams play in a one-game playoff after the end of the regular season, with the winner advancing to the Division Series. The divisional champions qualify for the Division Series just as in the previous format; however, under the expanded wild card format the winner of the one-game wild card playoff faces the top-seeded divisional champion in the Division Series, regardless of whether the two teams are in the same division, while the second- and third-seeded divisional champions play each other in the other Division Series. The format for placement in the League Championship Series and World Series remains.

Home-field advantage

World Series

The World Series used several different formats in its early years. Initially it generally followed an alternating home-and-home pattern, except that if a seventh game was possible, its site was determined by coin toss prior to the sixth game. In 1924 the Series began using a 2-3-2 format, presumably to save on travel costs, a pattern that has continued to this day with the exception of a couple of the World War II years when wartime travel restrictions compelled a 3-4 format (used in 1943 and 1945, but not in the 1944 series, which was all in the same stadium in St. Louis). From the start of the 2-3-2 format through the 2002 season, home-field advantage generally alternated between leagues each year. Prior to the 1994 strike, the National League champion received home-field advantage in even-numbered years and the American League champion in odd-numbered years; these were reversed for 1995-2002 (because 1994 would have been the NL's turn to have home-field, but the AL was to host because of the implementation of the new wildcard team). That changed starting in 2003.

The 2002 All-Star Game had ended in a tie, much to the displeasure of both fans and sportswriters who complained about a lack of intensity and competitiveness on the part of the players. This hit especially close to home for Commissioner Bud Selig, as the game had been played in his home city of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. In response, to give some real meaning to the game, in 2003 MLB began assigning home-field advantage in the World Series to the winner of that year's All-Star Game, which is typically held in mid-July.

Thanks to a seven-All-Star Game winning streak for the AL from 2003-2009, coupled with the American League's scheduled home-field advantage in the 2002 Series, the American League was given (a) the first two home games and (b) home field in any seventh game in each World Series. It did not help the Yankees in 2003, the Tigers in 2006, or the Rays in 2008, but arguably it gave a jump start (by hosting the first two games) to the Red Sox in 2004 and 2007 and the White Sox in 2005, all three of which ended up sweeping their opponents in the World Series. In 2010, the NL won their first All Star Game since the change in the assignment of home-field advantage. The Giants used this advantage to help them win the World Series for the NL in 2010. But this small sample roughly correlates with the overall record, in which the team with home-field advantage has won the Series only about half the time.

League Championship Series

Until 1998, the LCS alternated home-field advantage with a 2-3 format in the best-of-5 era (1969–84) and a 2-3-2 format when it went to best-of-7 (1985–present). Now home-field advantage goes to the team with the best record, or in the case of a wild card team vs. divisional winner, the divisional winner would receive home-field advantage.

Division Series

Until 1998, the Division Series rotated which of the three division champions would not have home field advantage, with the wild card never having it. Now the two division winners with the best records in each league have home field, with the least-winning divisional winner and the wild card not having home field. The DS used a 2-3 format until 1998 and now uses a 2-2-1 format. This is seen as a much fairer distribution of home field advantage because previously under the 2-3 format, the team hosting the first two games had absolutely no chance of winning the series at home. With the current 2-2-1 format however, both teams have the home field advantage in a way. While one team gets to host three games (including the critical first and last game), the other team does get two chances out of three (games 3 and 4) of winning the series on its home field. Also, the team earning homefield is assured of hosting two games instead of the lesser record team being guaranteed the two games.

With the adoption of the expanded playoff format in 2012, the five-game Division Series began with two home games for lower seeds, followed by up to three home games for higher seeds. This one-year change eliminated a travel day prior to a decisive Game 5 of a Division Series and was necessary because the 2012 regular-season schedule was announced before the agreement on the new postseason was reached. For 2013, the Division Series returned to the 2-2-1 format used in previous years.

Postseason bonuses

There are three factors that determine the actual amount of bonus money paid to any individual player: 1) the size of the bonus pool; 2) their team's success in the season/post-season; and, 3) the share of the pool assigned to the individual player.

How the Bonus Pool is determined

There is a separate pool for each series – the Wild Card games, the Division Series, the League Championship Series, and the World Series. The player’s bonus pool is funded with 60% of the gate receipts for each of the Wild Card games, the first three games of each Division Series, the first four games of each LCS and the first four games of the World Series; limiting the funding for the pool to these games, the minimum number in each series, removes incentive to extend the series for merely fiscal sake. The value of the gate is determined by the size of the venues, the amount of high-priced premium seating in the venues, the number of games played in the series and whether or not the games sell out. Ticket prices for each series are set by MLB, not the home teams, so they are relatively uniform across baseball.

How much the winner and loser receives from each pool

The World Series winner gets 36%, the World Series loser gets 24%, both League Championship Series losers get 12%, the four Division Series losers get 3.25%, and the two Wild Card playoff losers get 1.5%.[2]

How the team’s share of the pool is divided

The player shares are voted upon by the players that were on the team during the entire regular season in a meeting chaired by their union representative. This meeting follows the trade deadline on July 31. Players who were with the team for the full season automatically receive a full share.[3] Anyone else, including players who have not been with the team for a full season, coaches, or trainers may be granted a full share, less than a full share, a cash award, or no share as a result of the vote by the full season players. The pool of money is split according to the shares determined in the vote. There is no limit to the number of shares that may be granted, but a greater number of shares dilutes the value of each share, and consequently the amount each player is awarded.

As an example, playoff pool full share holders for the St. Louis Cardinals received $362,183.97 each when the team won the World Series in 2006.

See also