September 30, 2022

Explainer: How MLB’s new wildcard format affects the Blue Jays

If the Blue Jays maintain their current pace in the American League East, they will enter baseball’s new playoff world in October.

This world is a new and expanded format that will see three wildcard teams – one more than in 2021 – enter the post-season.

For the Jays, winning the division was an important part of the team’s expectations to open the year. But the Yankees, despite slowing in the second half, entered Thursday with a five-game lead over Tampa Bay in the East, and 6 1/2 over the Jays. Toronto was the third wild card team, half a game behind Seattle.

Here’s a look at the new format and who the Jays could face:

Why and how it changed

Major League Baseball and the MLBPA agreed to a new collective bargaining agreement last spring, and part of it saw a playoff expansion from 10 to 12 teams. In each league, two of the three division winners with the best record receive a wildcard round bye. The winner of the division with the lowest record and the three wildcard teams compete in a wildcard round. These series winners will advance to take on the top two teams.

Generic structure

The lowest division winner and the three wildcard teams in each league will play a pair of best-of-three series. The division winner, who is considered the third seed in the league, faces the wild-card team with the weakest record (sixth seed). The fourth and fifth seeds face each other in the other series.

What this means for the Jays

On Thursday, Toronto was sixth and final in the AL playoffs and will face the AL Central-leading Cleveland Guardians in the wildcard round. Seattle, seeded fourth, would face Tampa, seeded fifth, in the other series. Top-seeded Houston and second-seeded New York would receive byes to the next round.

Field Advantage

The three games of the wild-card series will be played at the home park of the highest seed. If the Jays finish sixth, they’ll be on the road for the entire series.

When does the fun begin?

The wildcard series in both leagues will take place over three consecutive days from October 7-9. The winners get a day off on October 10, before the start of the split series on October 11. The series of divisions will be the best of five, continuing until October 17, if necessary.

Pitch bonuses

The Wild Series Game 1 pitchers will need three days off if they want to start the Division Series opener. This means wild-round teams could use their rotations and relievers, and potentially be vulnerable to the top two seeds, who will be rested and can configure their pitching staff accordingly. This new format emphasizes finishing with the first or second-best record in the league.

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