MLB playoffs: 2021 postseason picture, format and schedule

The 2021 regular season is winding down 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 MLB postseason picture and examine who would make the playoffs if it started today.

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.

MLB playoff picture: National League

MLB playoffs
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No. 1 seed vs. winner of NL Wild Card Game: San Francisco Giants

It’s coming down to the final days for the No. 1 seed in the National League playoff race between the San Francisco Giants and Los Angeles Dodgers. San Francisco’s 10-9 edge in the season series is the difference right now in the MLB standings. The Giants have the San Diego Padres, Colorado Rockies and Arizona Diamondbacks on deck to close out the season. Right now, we have to see the Giants as the favorites.

No. 2 vs. No. 3: Milwaukee Brewers (NL Central) vs. Atlanta Braves (NL East)

The Milwaukee Brewers are your 2021 NL Central champions. While there was a brief moment where it seemed like the Cincinnati Reds might narrow the gap, Milwaukee recovered. Everyone knows about the dominant rotation trio (Brandon Woodruff, Corbin Burnes, Freddy Peralta), the guys who will carry this club in an NLDS against the Braves or Phillies. But don’t sleep on a Brewers lineup that ranks 12th in wRC+ since the All-Star Break.

The NL East race is down the final stretch and it could be a close finish. The Atlanta Braves are 5-5 in their last 10 games and it’s coming at the worst time with the Philadelphia Phillies on a hot streak. The Braves remain the favorites to win the NL Central and with a 75.5% playoff chance, playing in October is very possible. But if Atlanta doesn’t turn things around quickly, that final series against the Phillies (Sept. 28-30) will decide the division.

NL Wild Card Game: Los Angeles Dodgers vs. St. Louis Cardinals

Both the Giants and Los Angeles Dodgers have already locked up playoff spots and the loser of the rivalry will host the NL Wild Card Game. Right now, that projects to be the Dodgers and they are a perfect fit for a winner-take-all matchup. Los Angeles can throw Clayton Kershaw, Walker Buehler or Max Scherzer against its wild-card foe, easily making them the favorites, then start the next two aces in an NLDS.

For St. Louis, it’s been a frustrating season. After starting strong, the Cardinals cooled off and plummeted down the standings. But the Cardinals are taking flight once again, riding a 13-game winning streak towards October. After months of the final NL Wild Card spot being within a game, St. Louis is five games away from this miraculous run clinching a spot in the postseason.

NL Playoff hunt: San Diego Padres, Cincinnati Reds, Philadelphia Phillies

Theoretically, the Philadelphia Phillies can still win the last wild card spot. But sitting 4.5 games back with less than 10 games to play, a lot of things need to go this club’s way. Ultimately, Philadelphia likely falls short and that will remind fans of the league-high 32 blown saves this year.

The Manny Machado and Fernando Tatis Jr confrontation is the culmination of so many things going wrong for the Padres. Injuries played a role, but failing to meet massive expectations reflects more on the lack of leadership in the clubhouse. A loaded roster that once seemed like a certainty to reach the MLB playoffs is now going to finish sixth or seventh in the National League.

It was now or never entering the week for the Cincinnati Reds. Clearly, they chose the latter. Dropping another series to the Pittsburgh Pirate is the perfect end to this season. The Reds got everyone excited and then crushed playoff dreams in a matter of days.

MLB playoffs bracket: American League

MLB playoffs
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No. 1 seed vs. winner of AL Wild Card Game: Tampa Bay Rays (AL East)

The Tampa Bay Rays haven’t played their best baseball as of late, but it’s understandable due to the Wander Franco and Nelson Cruz injuries. With the sluggers returning to the lineup and this team moving closer towards clinching the No. 1 spot in the American League, the defending AL champs should feel confident.

No. 2 vs. No. 3: Houston Astros (AL West) vs. Chicago White Sox (AL Central)

It’s a wrap on the AL Central, the Chicago White Sox are the 2021 champions. With Luis Robert, Eloy Jimenez and Yasmani Grandal back, there are a lot of reasons to believe Chicago can hoist the World Series trophy in 2021. But this team has also run into some cold spells, causing its spot in the playoff standings to fluctuate. Ultimately, how Chicago finishes the regular season will determine our confidence in them for October. If the team we’ve seen against the Tigers and Angels shows up, Houston will dispatch the Sox quickly.

Alex Bregman is back the Astros’ lineup, the pitching staff is rediscovering its form and the bullpen is improved thanks to some deadline acquisitions. Dusty Baker has pushed Houston past expectations entering the season, and this club is a legitimate World Series contender with October approaching.

AL Wild Card Game: Toronto Blue Jays vs. Boston Red Sox.

The Boston Red Sox are on fire right now. After Chris Sale’s gem, Boston is riding a seven-game winning streak and sits atop the AL Wild Card hunt. Really, everyone is focused on that Sept. 24-26 series against the New York Yankees, which may decide if New York even gets to experience the MLB playoffs.

With Boston finding its footing and putting some distance between itself and other teams in the AL playoff hunt, the battle comes down to the Toronto Blue Jays and New Yor Yankees. The Blue Jays are arguably a more talented team, but youth can lead to some issues in crunch time and we’ve seen that as of late. New York is ahead right now, but there is one problem.

The Yankees schedule to close out the regular season (Red Sox, Blue Jays, Rays) is absolutely brutal. Ultimately, it might be the reason why they fall short in the AL wild card race.

AL playoff hunt: Oakland Athletics, Seattle Mariners

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 playoffs schedule

AL and NL Wild Card Game

Tuesday, Oct. 5AL No.5 seed @ AL No. 4 seedESPN
Wednesday, Oct. 6NL No.5 seed @ NL No. 4 seedTBS

MLB Division Series

MLB playoff schedule: Thursday, October 7

Thursday, Oct. 7ALDS A, Game 1FS1/MLB Network
Thursday, Oct. 7ALDS B, Game 2FS1/MLB Network

MLB playoff schedule: Friday, October 8

Friday, Oct. 8ALDS A, Game 2FS1/MLB Network
Friday, Oct. 8ALDS B, Game 2FS1/MLB Network
Friday, Oct. 8NLDS A, Game 1TBS
Friday, Oct. 8NLDS B, Game 1TBS

Saturday, Oct. 9

Saturday, Oct. 9NLDS A, Game 2TBS
Saturday, Oct. 9NLDS B, Game 2TBS

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