Unusual times call for unusual circumstances as Major League Baseball and the MLB Players Association agreed Thursday to expand the playoffs to 16 teams for the 2020 season.
“This season will be a sprint to a new format that will allow more fans to experience playoff baseball,” commissioner Rob Manfred said in a statement announcing the expansion. “We look forward to a memorable Postseason concluding a year like no other.”
All second-place teams in the six divisions will now qualify for the playoffs. Then the seventh and eighth teams in each league will be chosen by best record.
The first round of the playoffs, scheduled for Sept. 29-Oct. 2, in each league will be four three-game series with all games played at the higher seed’s home stadium. The rest of the rounds will be their customary length: The two Division Series in each league will be five-game series, while the AL and NL Championship Series and World Series will be seven-game series.
“We hope it will result in highly competitive pennant races as well as exciting additional playoff games to the benefit of the industry and all involved heading into next year,” MLBPA executive director Tony Clark said in the statement.
The adoption of a 16-team format will include a televised postseason-seeding show in which top-seeded teams pick their first-round opponents, a source told ESPN’s Buster Olney earlier Thursday.
ESPN and Fox will exclusively televise the first round, with seven of the series on ESPN and the eighth on Fox.
Players will receive a $50 million pool that will be distributed after each round and could increase if fans are allowed in stadiums for the postseason.
Sources said an important aspect for the players was player and family housing and access to the stadium during the playoffs.
The change means 53% of the 30 teams reach the playoffs. If eight teams qualified for the playoffs in each league from 1995 through 2019, 46 teams at or below .500 would have made it, according to the Elias Sports Bureau, an average of just under two per season. Those teams included 25 from the AL.
There would have been only three seasons in which all playoff teams would have had winning records, Elias said: 2000, 2003 and 2009.
The only time in the past 10 seasons that eight teams in each league finished at or above .500 was in 2012, according to ESPN Stats & Information.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.