MLB playoffs expanding this season

Baseball’s playoffs will expand from eight to 10 teams, starting this season, MLB announced Friday.

The sport’s new collective-barganing agreement stipulated that additional wild cards would be added in each league no later than 2013. But commissioner Bud Selig wanted the expansion to occur immediately, and management worked with the players’ union to ensure the switch to a 10-team format this season.

“I greatly appreciate the MLBPA’s cooperation in putting the new postseason format in place this year," Selig said. "This change increases the rewards of a division championship and allows two additional markets to experience playoff baseball each year.”

In the new format, each league’s three division winners earn a first-round bye; the Nos. 4 and 5 teams play a game to determine the wild card, which then plays the top-seeded division winner in the first round.

For 2012 only, the five-game division series will begin with two home games for lower seeds, followed by up to three home games for higher seeds. This one-year change will eliminate a travel day prior to a decisive Game 5 of the division series and was necessary because the 2012 regular-season schedule was announced before the agreement on the new postseason was reached. Next year, the division series will return to the 2-2-1 format used in previous years.

The one-time switch to a 2-3 format does not eliminate the potential for chaos at the start of the postseason, however. The schedule remains quite compressed, in part because baseball must honor its national-TV contracts with FOX and TBS.

The regular season ends on Wednesday, Oct. 3. Any division or wild-card tiebreaker games would take place on Thursday, Oct. 4. The wild-card games would be on Friday, Oct. 5, creating the possibility of a team twice taking cross-country flights in that period.

As a result, baseball plans to be flexible with its starting times during that period. West Coast games involving contenders on the final day of the regular season will begin earlier. Tiebreaker and wild-card games could begin later. And rainouts, of course, could wreak further havoc.

The schedule for the division series, meanwhile, will be staggered — again, for this season only.

The two DS featuring the 2-3 seeds will start on Saturday, Oct. 6. The two involving the wild cards will start on Sunday, Oct. 7. That way, the wild cards will get a day off between the wild-card game and their division series openers.

A problem could ensue if the ALDS involving the wild card goes a full five games, ending on Friday, Oct. 12. The ALCS will begin the following day, as mandated by baseball’s contract with TBS. Thus, there would be no travel day in between, and the teams would not know where the ALCS would begin until after the ALDS is over.

The problem in ’12 is that the regular season ends on Wednesday, Oct. 3 and the World Series begins on FOX on Wednesday, Oct. 24. Squeezing in additional wild-card games never was part of the plan.

Details on the scheduling of the new elimination games between each league’s wild cards will be announced in the near future.

The union, concerned about the integrity of competition, initially opposed expanding the postseason until baseball went to two 15-team leagues, something that will happen in ’13 when the Houston Astros move to the AL West.

Inequities in the schedule will remain in ’12. The situation in ’13 will be different — the regular season will end on a Sunday instead of a Wednesday, creating the extra days necessary to incorporate wild-card games in each league.

Also to be determined: The networks that would broadcast the additional wild-card games.