Here’s the 2021 MLB playoff format, schedule and predictions originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago
The MLB playoff field is officially set after a chaotic final weekend of regular season games. After expanding the playoffs to 16 teams in the pandemic-shortened 2020 season, normality has returned with the 10-team field in 2021.
This year’s playoffs have all the ingredients for an instant classic. Four of baseball’s most notable organizations will face off in the Wild Card Games, and two 100-win teams are already locked into the Division Series.
Here is a full introduction to the 2021 MLB Playoffs:
What is the 2021 MLB playoff format?
The 2021 MLB playoff format is the same as it has been since 2012 — with the exception of 2020.
It starts with the AL and NL wild card games, one game for each, with the winner automatically advancing to the league split series to play the top seed in their respective league.
The League Division Series is a best-of-five battle, with the top seed facing the wild card winner and the other two division winners facing each other. The winner of these two series for each league will qualify for the best of the seven league championship series.
Whoever wins the ALCS and NLCS will go to the 2021 World Series, which is a best-of-seven format with home court awarded to the team with the best regular season record. The team with the home field can play in their stadium for the first two games of the series, then return for a potential sixth game and seventh game.
2021 MLB Playoff Support
The AL and NL wild card games weren’t officially locked until the last day of the regular season. Things couldn’t have gone better on the AL side, with the New York Yankees visit the Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park after both teams posted a 92-70 regular season record. The Red Sox won the field after winning the season series 10-9, so this game is about as even as it gets.
The NL also includes two famous organizations, as the St. Louis Cardinals play the Los Angeles Dodgers at Hollywood. The Dodgers had the second-best record in baseball this season at 106-56, but lost the NL West to the San Francisco Giants by a game and were forced into the joker. St. Louis rode a 17-game winning streak in September to run away with the second-place wildcard, finishing the season at 90-72.
Three teams from each league earned automatic berths for the league split series. In the AL, the Tampa Bay Rays are the top seed and will face the winner of the Yankees-Red Sox while the No. 2 seed Houston Astros will face the No. 3 seed. Chicago White Sox. The aforementioned Giants own the first seed in the NL, facing the winner of the Cardinals-Dodgers. The No. 2 seed Milwaukee Brewers will face the No. 3 seed Atlanta Braves in the other series.
Here is an overview of the full support:
What is the 2021 MLB playoff schedule?
The playoffs begin this week, with the AL Wild Card Game on Tuesday, October 5 at 8:08 p.m. ET and the NL Wild Card Game on Wednesday, October 6 at 8:10 p.m. ET. It will be Gerrit Cole of New York against Nathan Eovaldi of Boston on Tuesday, with Adam Wainwright of St. Louis facing Max Scherzer of Los Angeles on Wednesday.
The American League Division Series begins Thursday (October 7) with the Rays hosting the AL wild card winner and the Astros hosting the White Sox for Game 1. The AL will play again Friday before a day off, then two more games, another day off, then the potential Game 5 match on Wednesday, October 13. The National League Division Series begins Friday (October 8) with the same format – two games, one day off, two games, one day off, then the potential Game 5 on Thursday, October 14.
However quickly the first-round series ends, the dates for the League Championship Series are already set. The ALCS is scheduled to begin on Friday, October 15, with subsequent matches on Saturday, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday*, Friday* and Saturday*. The NLCS begins one day later on Saturday, October 16 and is played again on Sunday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday*, Saturday* and Sunday*. The final three games of the ALCS and NLCS are only played if necessary.
The 2021 World Series begins on Tuesday, October 26. Similar to the ALCS and NLCS, there will be two games, one day off, three games, one day off then two games. The last three games are played if necessary, but once a team wins four games, the series is over. Game 7 of the World Series would be played on Wednesday, November 3.
Who is the favorite to win the 2021 World Series?
Despite being one game away from elimination playing in the wild card game, the Dodgers are favored to repeat as World Series champions, according to our partner, PointsBet. The Dodgers have a stacked rotation led by the acquisition of deadline Scherzer, young star Walker Buehler and 20-game winner Julio Urias. Los Angeles also has plenty of pop in the flat, with six players hitting 20 or more homers — not counting 2020 World Series MVP Corey Seager, who hit six home runs in Los Angeles’ last seven games after a season of wounds.
The Rays and Astros are favored to come out of the American League, which makes sense given they are the first two seeds and the last two representatives in the AL World Series. Tampa Bay and Houston had a thrilling seven-game series in the ALCS last fall as the Rays progressed. The Astros have made the ALCS in four consecutive years, winning it twice (2017, 2019). The Rays, meanwhile, lost to the Dodgers in the World Series last year but won 100 games in 2021.
Two of the sport’s most successful franchises are the biggest snipers to win the World Series. The Red Sox have won four titles since 2004, the most of any team, with their last coming in 2018 – which was also their last playoff appearance. They snuck into the playoffs with a comeback victory on the last day of the season, but they’ll have to defeat the rival Yankees and Rays just to reach the ALCS. The Cardinals were baseball’s hottest team in September, although a date with the Dodgers is looming. St. Louis has made the World Series four times since 2004, losing twice to the Red Sox and winning its other two appearances.
Here are all the odds of winning the 2021 World Series:
- Los Angeles Dodgers, +375
- Tampa Bay Rays, +600
- Houston Astros, +600
- San Francisco Giants, +650
- Chicago White Sox, +700
- Milwaukee Brewers, +700
- Atlanta Braves, +1100
- New York Yankees, +1300
- Boston Red Sox, +1800
- Cardinals of St. Louis, +1800
Editor’s note: All ratings are provided by our partner, PointsBet. PointsBet is our official sports betting partner and we may receive compensation if you place a bet on PointsBet for the first time after clicking on our links.
2021 MLB Playoff Predictions
This could go wrong in a hurry, especially with the uncertainty of the single-elimination wildcard format. We’ll start there, though, and I’m going with the Dodgers and Red Sox to move on to the NLDS and ALDS, respectively. Scherzer simply won’t allow the Dodgers to lose, and they’ll use their playoff experience to get past the hot Cardinals. The Red Sox-Yankees are much more of a draw, but Cole hasn’t been sharp since suffering a hamstring injury in September. It’s a bet on Boston’s offense more than its throw, which is among the worst in the playoffs.
Things get even tougher the next round. The Giants-Dodgers coming into the NLDS feel so bad after being the top two teams all year. San Francisco just has a kind of magic touch this year, and they’ll knock out the defending champions. The Braves were a great story in the regular season after battling so many injuries, but they played in the worst division and have the worst playoff record of any team. The Brewers advance to face the Giants.
On the AL side of the bracket, the Rays will dispatch the Red Sox in what should be a relatively easy series. Boston doesn’t throw well enough or play defense at a high enough level to compete with Tampa Bay. Astros-White Sox might be the best series in LDS. It will go a long way, but Houston has too much offensive firepower to lose to the young White Sox.
This sets up Brewers-Giants in the NLCS and Rays-Astros in the ALCS. Not exactly the sexy, big-deal matchups MLB might want, but there will be some good baseball played. Milwaukee has an incredible pitching team with three starters who have an ERA under three and closer Josh Hader is 34 for 35 on save attempts. They won the season series 4-3 over San Francisco, and it will be a repeat in the NLCS. The Brewers win Game 7 at Oracle Park in San Fran.
Whether fans like it or not (they don’t), the Astros continued to play winning baseball even after the sign-stealing scandal. They were less than a World Series game away last year and they will do better in 2021, demanding revenge on the Rays. Young stars Yordan Alvarez and Kyle Tucker team up with established veterans Jose Altuve, Alex Bregman and Carlos Correa to form the best roster in baseball. That will be enough to get them to the World Series, even if the rotation isn’t quite where it used to be.
The World Series pits two teams that thrive in opposite fields against each other. Houston led the league in runs, hits and batting average. Milwaukee led the league in strikeouts and was third in ERA and quality starts. The Astros are making their fifth consecutive playoff appearance, the Brewers are making their fourth. In a six-game series, I have the Astros winning the 2021 World Series. Sorry, America.