As expected, the collective agreement expanded the playoff field from ten to twelve teams. Travis Sawchik of The Score reports the format (by Twitter): the top two division winners in each league receive byes to the first round, while the worst division winner and the three Wild Card teams per league will play three-game sets to advance to the Division Series. The worst division winner will face off in the final Wild Card qualifier, while the top two Wild Card clubs will go head-to-head.
There is no “ghost victory” involved. The Players’ Association previously raised the possibility of division winners starting with a one-game advantage in any first-round set against a Wild Card club. MLB opposed this idea, and it was not included in the final deal.
The union’s push for a ‘phantom win’, however, seemed more rooted in concerns over a potential 14-team format than with the 12-team arrangement. The MLBPA was not enthusiastic about the possibility of going to 14 playoff teams, fearing that it would deter clubs from eagerly improving their rosters if they thought they were already comfortable for playoff qualifying. .
In the end, the union held firm in the 12-team playoffs this time around. Describing this as a loss for the league, which had sought 14 for most negotiations, however, would not be entirely accurate. Going from 10 to 12 clubs marked a major concession in its own right; the introduction of a new round of the playoffs is worth $85 million a year to the league under the terms of its broadcast deal with ESPN. This is before accounting for gate and concession revenue for clubs hosting these additional matches.
With the extension of the playoffs, the Wild Card game is no more. The one-game playoff between the two Wild Card clubs in each league took effect with MLB expanding from eight to ten postseason playoffs in 2012. It remained in place through 2021, but the one game were eliminated in favor of three-game streak ahead.
Interestingly, the potential match 163 tiebreaker was also dropped. Athletic’s Jayson Stark reports (Twitter link) there are seeding tiebreakers in place in event teams that end the year with the same regular season record. The details are unclear, but other leagues have used things such as the head-to-head record between tied clubs and winning percentage in intra-league matches as tiebreakers. Rather than conducting a one-game playoff between teams that finish tied for playoff berths, a pre-determined formula will determine the field.
Finally, the series of divisions will not be reseeded, reports Sawchik. The first seed in each league will host the winner of the 4v5 Wild Card series in the second round, even if the #6 seed beats the #3 seed. It’s a bit of an odd choice to first glance, but it might help MLB market the playoffs as an NCAA basketball-style bracket.