Baseball may be the game of summer, but the real excitement comes when the fall air gets crisper and the pressure of every single pitch is magnified.

The long and grueling 162-game slate of the MLB season leads to the playoffs, and ever since the sport instituted an additional wild-card team for each league, there is even more postseason baseball to enjoy.

Here is a look at the entire 2014 playoff schedule, courtesy of, followed by a breakdown of the formats for the early rounds.

*Denotes the game may not be necessary.


Wild Card Round 

In the recent past, the three division winners from each league and the team with the best record that didn’t win its division made the playoffs. It meant there were four teams on the American League side of the bracket and four teams on the National League side.

However, MLB added a second wild-card team to each league in 2012, and the two wild-card teams from each league play each other in a single-elimination contest. Whichever team wins advances to the Divisional Series against the No. 1 seed from the respective league.

No pressure or anything.

This season, the Oakland Athletics will travel to Kansas City to take on the Royals, and the San Francisco Giants travel to Pittsburgh to take on the Pirates. The American League game is in Kansas City because the Royals finished with a better record than the Athletics, and the National League game is in Pittsburgh because the Pirates beat the Giants in four of their six head-to-head matchups this year.

Interestingly, former Atlanta Braves star Chipper Jones was against the new wild-card format in 2012 in comments via David O’Brien of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution:

I think it’s stupid, to be honest with you. But Major League Baseball wants a bunch of teams in the playoffs. There’s nothing like cut-throat baseball for the fans. And people love that 163rd regular-season game. They’ve loved it in the past. I’m sure that’s probably what’s promoted a second wild-card team.

You say to yourself, we could possibly have the second- or third-best record in the National League when the season’s over and we have to play a one-game playoff just to get in. That doesn’t seem fair because anything can happen [in one game]. Now if you were to say the two wild-card teams will play a best two-out-of-three [series], I’d be OK with that. We play three-game series all the time, and we concentrate on winning those series all the time. I think it’s more fair from a standpoint that anything can happen in one game – a blown call by an umpire, a bad day at the office … at least in a two-of-three-game series you have some sort of leeway.

While Jones’ opinion was certainly influenced by where the Atlanta Braves were in the standings at the time, he certainly has a valid point. Baseball has a much longer regular season than the NHL, NBA, NFL and major college football and basketball, yet the top wild-card team could be sent home in a single three-hour evening. 

All it would take is one bad break or one incredible pitching outing, and those 162 games basically wash away in one night.


Divisional Series

The winner of each wild-card game advances to the Divisional Series to face the No. 1 seed from the respective leagues. The other Divisional Series takes place between the No. 2 and No. 3 seeds, which are both division winners themselves.

The Divisional Series is a best-of-five affair, and the team with the better seed hosts Games 1, 2 and 5. The top seed in the National League awaiting either the Pirates or Giants is the Washington Nationals, while the top seed in the American League is the Los Angeles Angels.


Quick Look Ahead

Pitching takes center stage in every postseason, especially in the wild-card scenarios where it is a one-game, winner-take-all situation. 

Oakland will send Jon Lester to the mound (16-11), while the Royals will counter with James Shields (14-8). The MLB pointed out why that matchup could be a problem for Kansas City from a statistical standpoint, while Barry Svrluga of The Washington Post noted that the Royals have enjoyed the upper hand in this matchup unless Lester pitches:

In the National League game, the Pirates will send Edinson Volquez (13-7) to the dish to face Madison Bumgarner of the Giants (18-10). Volquez has been absolutely dominant in the second half of the season and has not allowed a run in 18 innings. In fact, his ERA is 1.85 in his past 17 starts, which dates back to June.

Regardless of who wins in the Wild Card Round, it will be a tall order going against the top-seeded Nationals and Angels. That is especially the case because the wild-card winner will have already used one of its best pitchers previously, which could be problematic in a short, five-game series in the Divisional Series.   

Look for pitching depth to play a major role in the early going and throughout the postseason.


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