MLB Playoff Format 2012: Explaining Wild Card, Divisional Series Changes & More
For non-traditionalists, Major League Baseball's 2012 season has been a dream come true.
The wild-card system is different, the divisional round of the playoffs is different and even one extra team from each league has been included in the postseason.
Under the 2012 system, the New York Yankees and the Tampa Bay Rays would have faced each other in the divisional round of the playoffs last season. Instead, the Yankees faced the Detroit Tigers and the Rays faced the Texas Rangers.
So, as we head into the 2012 postseason, here's a look at the new rules and what they mean for wild-card teams and divisional champions.
The Way It Used to Be
The 2012 campaign marks the first season in MLB history that two wild-card teams from each league make the playoffs since there used to only be one from each.
If the wild-card team wasn't from the same division as the divisional champion with the best record, those two teams would meet in the playoffs.
If the wild-card team was from the same division, it would meet the second-best divisional champion in the playoffs.
The first wild-card system was enacted in the 1995 season.
2012 Wild Card Format
Starting in 2012, the two wild-card teams from each league play each other in a single-game playoff the day after the regular season ends.
The winner of this game moves on to the divisional round to face the divisional champion with the best record (regardless of whether that team is in the same division).
2012 Divisional Round Format
In 2012, the divisional round will begin with two home games for lower seeds, followed by three home games by higher seeds.
In the past, Major League Baseball has played under a 2-2-1 format, with the top seed playing Games 1, 2 and 5 (if necessary) at home.
Keep in mind, this is only a one-year adjustment for now. The divisional round could go back to the 2-2-1 format in 2013.
What It Means for the Divisional Round
The new format for the divisional round was enacted to eliminate one travel day.
Instead of the top seed playing two games at home, then traveling, then playing two more games before traveling back home, the travel day between Games 4 and 5 will be eliminated.
This was put in place just for this year because the 2012 schedule was announced before the new postseason was agreed upon, thus allowing for little wiggle room.
What is interesting about this format is that the lower seed gets to play the first two games of the series at home, opening up the possibility of jumping out to a 2-0 series lead over the favorites.
What It Means for the Wild Card Round
Interestingly enough, the wild-card format for 2012 was initially brought to MLB's attention by computer game designer Clay Dreslough in 1999 (per GMGames.org).
Using this system, there is more importance placed on winning the division because no one wants to play in a single-elimination playoff game in the wild-card round.
Also, the No. 1 seed of each league that gets home-field advantage gets to play the winner of the wild-card game, which likely means it will be facing the wild-card team's No. 2 pitcher to start the series.