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MLB playoffs: 2021 posteason picture, format and schedule

The 2021 season is underway and we’re starting to get a picture of how the MLB playoffs will look in October, with several teams emerging as World Series contenders.

Throughout the season, we’ll have updates on where things stand in the postseason race for both American League and National League teams. We’ll also provide overviews for postseason matchups, which will continue to change as the 2021 season unfolds. Let’s dive into the latest playoff picture in June.

Bookmark this page for in-season updates on the format, schedule and bracket for the 2021 MLB playoffs.

How many teams make the MLB playoffs in 2021?

After expanding the MLB playoffs to 16 teams in 2020, MLB announced the 2021 postseason would return to 10 teams with five clubs from the National League and American League competing for the World Series.

The MLB collective bargaining agreement with the players’ union expires on Dec. 1, 2021. When a new CBA is signed, the postseason will likely return to a 16-team format.

When are the MLB playoffs?

MLB playoffs
Thomas B. Shea-USA TODAY Sports

With Major League Baseball shifting back to a 10-team format, the postseason will kick off on Tuesday, Oct. 5. It comes just two days after the 2021 MLB regular season wraps up.

  • National League and American League wild-card games: Oct. 5-6
  • American League and National League Division Series: Oct. 7-14
  • NL and AL Championship Series: Oct. 15-24
  • 2021 World Series: Oct. 26- Nov. 3

MLB playoff bracket: National League

MLB playoffs
Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

No. 1 seed vs. winner of NL Wild Card Game: San Diego Padres

The Padres are the hottest team in baseball. Getting everyone back from COVID-19 has provided the spark you’d expect, with Fernando Tatís Jr. playing at an MVP-caliber level. At one point, San Diego stood at 13-12 with at least a few doubts about its legitimacy as a World Series contender. With May drawing to a close, the Padres have responded by going 19-7.

All of the pieces are in place to win the National League and we haven’t even talked about the MLB trade deadline. A.J. Preller is one of the most aggressive general managers in baseball and with one of MLB’s best farm systems, don’t be surprised when he adds even more impact talent to the roster.

MLB trade rumors: Updates on latest news, buzz during 2021 season

No. 2 vs. No. 3: St. Louis Cardinals (NL Central) vs. New York Mets (NL East)

Both the St. Louis Cardinals and New York Mets have dealt with injuries and inconsistency early this season. Fortunately, their divisional foes have fared even worse. New York is quickly becoming the favorite in the NL East, even more so since Noah Syndergaard and Jacob deGrom will soon be leading one of MLB’s best rotations. The Cardinals are clinging to a lead in the NL Central and their run differential (+7) hints that the Chicago Cubs (+22) could pass them very quickly.

Either matchup would be a delight for television networks. New York is a huge market and the Cardinals (or Cubs) are beloved like no other pro team in the Midwest, so the ratings would be outstanding. In a five-game series, the Mets’ huge pitching edge would likely punch their ticket to the National League Division Series.

NL Wild Card Game: Los Angeles Dodgers vs. San Francisco Giants

Los Angeles is starting to get healthy, which means there will be a thrilling two-team race between them and the Padres for the NL West crown. More than likely, the loser of that will still get to host the NL Wild Card Game at home in front of a sold-out crowd.

San Francisco’s matchups with the Dodgers haven’t gone well. Entering Friday, Los Angeles won all four meetings and outscored the Giants 23-12. Keep in mind the Dodgers are doing this without Cody Bellinger and Corey Seager. Unless the Giants get really aggressive at the trade deadline, which might not be a wise decision, the best-case scenario for them is an immediate postseason exit.

MLB playoffs picture: American League

MLB playoffs
Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

No. 1 seed vs. winner of AL Wild Card Game: Tampa Bay Rays

We didn’t see this coming from the Rays. After losing so many key pieces from the rotation and not really investing in the roster, it felt like regression was inevitable for Tampa Bay. The first month of the season seemed to back that up, with the Rays holding a 13-15 record. But as May draws to a close, Tampa Bay is scorching hot.

From May 13-27, the Rays have posted a 13-1 record. While you can knock them for beating up on bad teams (Baltimore Orioles, Kansas City Royals) during that span, they also swept the Toronto Blue Jays and New York Mets. Keep in mind, two of the club’s most talented players (Vidal Brujan, Wander Franco) aren’t even up yet.

No. 2 vs. No. 3: Chicago White Sox (AL Central) vs. Oakland Athletics (AL West)

Chicago is quickly climbing back near the top of the MLB standings and the pitching is a huge reason why. One of the top teams in our MLB rotation rankings, the White Sox are getting everything they could ask for from the front-line starters. A series defeat at the hands of the Cleveland Indians is a slight cause for concern, but the White Sox still have superior talent and that matters with 100-plus games remaining.

RELATED: MLB power rankings – Houston Astros soar, NL teams sinking

Oakland will be battling the Houston Astros all season. The Astros’ run differential (+58) is a great sign for their chances, especially when compared to the Athletics (+1). But there is one important stat to consider. If you take away Oakland’s six-game losing streak to open the season (-37 run differential), things look so much better for the Athletics and reinforcements are coming to the bullpen.

AL Wild Card Game: Boston Red Sox vs. Cleveland Indians/Houston Astros

If the MLB Playoffs started in June, the New York Yankees would be out of the playoffs. The club’s recent skid has opened the door in the American League with both the Cleveland Indians and Houston Astros making things interesting.

The two clubs are separated by a fraction of a point for winning percentage and this race could stretch into October. A dream scenario for MLB would be a play-in game that decides which of the two enters the Wild Card Game. Houston’s lineup is superior and its starting rotation can best Cleveland, but bullpens matter in October. As for the Boston Red Sox, they would certainly prefer to face Cleveland but Boston-Houston would be far more entertaining.

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