The MLB postseason field is officially set after a chaotic final weekend of regular season games. After expanding the playoffs to 16 teams in the pandemic-shortened 2020 season, normalcy has returned with the 10-team field in 2021.
This year’s postseason has all the ingredients for an instant classic. Four of the most notable organizations in baseball will compete in the wild card games, and two 100-win teams are already locked into the division series.
Here’s a full primer for the 2021 MLB playoffs:
What is the 2021 MLB playoff format?
The 2021 MLB playoffs format is the same as it has been since 2012 -- with the exception of 2020.
It starts with the AL and NL wild card games, one game for each with the winner automatically advancing to the League Division Series to play the top seed in their respective league.
The League Division Series consists of a best-of-five battle, with the top seed facing the wild card winner and the other two division winners facing each other. The winner of those two series for each league will advance to the best-of-seven League Championship Series.
Whoever wins the ALCS and NLCS will compete in the 2021 World Series, which is a best-of-seven format with home field given to the team with the better regular season record. The team with home field gets to play in its stadium for the first two games of the series, then returns for a potential sixth game and seventh game.
2021 MLB playoff bracket
The AL and NL wild card games weren’t officially locked in until the final day of the regular season. Things couldn’t have set up any better on the AL side, with the New York Yankees visiting the Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park after both teams posted a 92-70 record in the regular season. The Red Sox earned home field after winning the season series 10-9, so this matchup is about as even as it can get.
The NL also features two famed organizations, as the St. Louis Cardinals play the Los Angeles Dodgers in Hollywood. The Dodgers had the second-best record in baseball this season at 106-56, but lost the NL West to the San Francisco Giants by one game and were forced into the wild card. St. Louis rode a 17-game winning streak in September to run away with the second wild card spot, finishing the season at 90-72.
Three teams in each league secured automatic berths to the League Division Series. In the AL, the Tampa Bay Rays have the top seed and will face the winner of Yankees-Red Sox while the No. 2 seed Houston Astros will face the No. 3 seed Chicago White Sox. The aforementioned Giants own the NL’s top seed, facing the winner of Cardinals-Dodgers. The No. 2 seed Milwaukee Brewers will play the No. 3 seed Atlanta Braves in the other series.
Here’s a look at the full bracket:
What is the 2021 MLB playoff schedule?
The postseason begins this week, with the AL Wild Card Game on Tuesday (Oct. 5) at 8:08 p.m. ET and the NL Wild Card Game on Wednesday (Oct. 6) at 8:10 p.m. ET. It’ll be New York’s Gerrit Cole against Boston’s Nathan Eovaldi on Tuesday, with St. Louis’ Adam Wainwright facing Los Angeles’ Max Scherzer on Wednesday.
The American League Division Series begins Thursday (Oct. 7) with the Rays hosting the AL wild card winner and the Astros hosting the White Sox for Game 1. The AL will play again Friday before one day off, then two more games, another day off and then the potential game Game 5 on Wednesday, Oct. 13. The National League Division Series begins Friday (Oct. 8) with the same format -- two games, one day off, two games, one day off and then the potential Game 5 on Thursday, Oct. 14.
Regardless of how quickly the first round series conclude, the League Championship Series dates are already set. The ALCS is set to begin on Friday, Oct. 15, with ensuing games on Saturday, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday*, Friday* and Saturday*. The NLCS begins one day later on Saturday, Oct. 16, and plays again on Sunday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday*, Saturday* and Sunday*. The final three games of both the ALCS and NLCS are only played if necessary.
The 2021 World Series begins on Tuesday, Oct. 26. Similar to the ALCS and NLCS, there will be two games, one day off, three games, one day off and then two games. The final three games are played if necessary, but once one team wins four games, the series is over. Game 7 of the World Series would be played on Wednesday, Nov. 3.
Who is favored to win the 2021 World Series?
Despite being one game from elimination by playing in the wild card game, the Dodgers are favored to repeat as World Series champions, according to our partner, PointsBet. The Dodgers have a stacked rotation led by deadline acquisition Scherzer, young star Walker Buehler and 20-game winner Julio Urias. Los Angeles has plenty of pop at the dish, too, boasting six players who hit 20 or more home runs -- not including 2020 World Series MVP Corey Seager, who had six homers in L.A.’s final seven games after an injury-riddle season.
The Rays and Astros are favored to come out of the American League, which makes sense given they are the top two seeds and the last two AL World Series representatives. Tampa Bay and Houston played a thrilling seven-game series in the ALCS last fall, with the Rays advancing. The Astros have made the ALCS in four straight years, winning it twice (2017, 2019). The Rays, meanwhile, lost to the Dodgers in the World Series last year but won 100 games in 2021.
Two of the sport’s most successful franchises are the biggest longshots to win the World Series. The Red Sox have won four titles since 2004, most of any team, with their last coming in 2018 -- which was also their last playoff appearance. They snuck into the playoffs with a comeback victory on the final day of the season, but they will have to take down the rival Yankees and Rays just to reach the ALCS. The Cardinals were baseball’s hottest team in September, though a date with the Dodgers looms. St. Louis has made the World Series four times since 2004, losing to the Red Sox twice and winning its other two appearances.
Here are the full odds to win the 2021 World Series:
- Los Angeles Dodgers, +375
- Tampa Bay Rays, +600
- Houston Astros, +600
- San Francisco Giants, +650
- Chicago White Sox, +700
- Milwaukee Brewers, +700
- Atlanta Braves, +1100
- New York Yankees, +1300
- Boston Red Sox, +1800
- St. Louis Cardinals, +1800
Editor's note: All odds are provided by our partner, PointsBet. PointsBet is our Official Sports Betting Partner and we may receive compensation if you place a bet on PointsBet for the first time after clicking our links.
2021 MLB playoff predictions
This could go horribly wrong in a hurry, especially with the uncertainty of the single elimination wild card format. We’ll start there, though, and I’m going with the Dodgers and Red Sox to advance to the NLDS and ALDS, respectively. Scherzer simply won’t allow the Dodgers to lose, and they’ll use their postseason experience to get by the red-hot Cardinals. Red Sox-Yankees is much more of a coin flip, but Cole hasn’t been sharp since suffering a hamstring injury in September. This is a bet on Boston’s offense more than its pitching, which is among the worst in the playoffs.
Things get even more difficult in the next round. Giants-Dodgers coming in the NLDS feels so wrong after they were the two best teams all year. San Francisco just has some sort of magic touch this year, and they’ll knock off the defending champions. The Braves were a nice story during the regular season after battling so many injuries, but they played in the worst division and have the worst record of any team in the playoffs. The Brewers advance to face the Giants.
On the AL side of the bracket, the Rays will dispatch the Red Sox in what should be a relatively easy series. Boston doesn’t pitch well enough or play defense at a high enough level to compete with Tampa Bay. Astros-White Sox might be the best series of the LDS. It’ll go the distance, but Houston has too much fire power on offense to lose to the young White Sox.
That sets up Brewers-Giants in the NLCS and Rays-Astros in the ALCS. Not exactly the sexy, big market matchups MLB might want, but there will be some great baseball played. Milwaukee has an incredible pitching staff featuring three starters that have an ERA under three and closer Josh Hader is 34 for 35 on save attempts. They won the season series 4-3 over San Francisco, and that’ll be a repeat in the NLCS. Brewers win Game 7 at Oracle Park in San Fran.
Whether fans like it or not (they don’t), the Astros have continued to play winning baseball even after the sign-stealing scandal. They were within one game of the World Series last year and they’ll do one better in 2021, exacting revenge on the Rays. Young stars Yordan Alvarez and Kyle Tucker join forces with established veterans Jose Altuve, Alex Bregman and Carlos Correa to form the best lineup in baseball. That’ll be enough to get them to the World Series, even if the rotation isn’t quite where it used to be.
The World Series pits two teams who thrive in opposite areas. Houston led the league in runs, hits and batting average. Milwaukee led the league in strikeouts and was third in ERA and quality starts. The Astros are making their fifth straight playoff appearance, the Brewers are making their fourth. In a six-game series, I have the Astros winning the 2021 World Series. Sorry, America.