As expected, the collective bargaining agreement expanded the postseason field from ten teams to twelve. Travis Sawchik of The Score reports the format (via Twitter): the top two division winners in each league receive first-round byes, 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 the final Wild Card qualifier, while the top two Wild Card clubs will take on one another.
There is no “ghost win” involved. The Players Association had previously floated the possibility of division winners starting with a one-game advantage in any first-round set against a Wild Card club. MLB opposed that idea, and it didn’t make it into the final agreement.
The union’s push for a “ghost win” seemed more rooted in concerns about a potential 14-team format than with the 12-team arrangement, though. The MLBPA was unenthused by the possibility of going to 14 playoff teams, fearing that doing so would disincentivize clubs from ardently upgrading their rosters if they believed they were already comfortable postseason qualifiers.
Ultimately, the union held firm on the 12-team playoff this time around. Describing that as a loss for the league, which had sought 14 for most of negotiations, wouldn’t be entirely accurate though. Going from 10 to 12 clubs marked a major concession in its own right; the introduction of a new round of the postseason is worth a reported $85MM annually for the league under the terms of its broadcasting arrangement with ESPN. That’s before accounting for gate and concession revenue for clubs hosting those additional games.
With the postseason expansion, the Wild Card game is no more. The one-game playoff between the two Wild Card clubs in each league took effect with MLB moving from eight to ten postseason qualifiers back in 2012. It remained in place through 2021, but the one-game playoff has been eliminated in favor of three-game series moving forward.
Interestingly, the potential Game 163 tiebreaker has also been scrapped. Jayson Stark of the Athletic reports (Twitter link) there are seeding tiebreakers in place in the event teams finish the year with the same regular season record. The specifics aren’t clear, but other leagues have used such things as head-to-head record between tied clubs and winning percentage in intra-league games as tiebreakers. Rather than conducting a one-game playoff between teams that finish tied for postseason spots, a prearranged formula will determine the field.
Finally, the division series won’t be reseeded, Sawchik reports. The top seed in each league will host the winner of the 4 vs. 5 Wild Card series in the second round, even if the #6 seed beats the #3 seed. That’s a bit of an odd choice on the surface, but it could perhaps aid MLB in marketing the postseason as an NCAA basketball-style bracket.