MLB playoff bubbles, explained: A complete guide to the rules, locations, schedule & more for 2020 postseason

Noble Horvath

The 2020 MLB postseason will be unlike any we’ve ever seen, which sounds about right considering all that’s happened this calendar year. Following the conclusion of the 60-game season, 16 of MLB’s 30 teams — eight in each league — will have qualified for the postseason. Under the previous setup, […]

The 2020 MLB postseason will be unlike any we’ve ever seen, which sounds about right considering all that’s happened this calendar year.

Following the conclusion of the 60-game season, 16 of MLB’s 30 teams — eight in each league — will have qualified for the postseason. Under the previous setup, of course, only five teams from each league made it to October. 

And the final three rounds of this postseason will be played in neutral-site locations, to minimize travel and — MLB hopes — eliminate the chances of a COVID outbreak that could derail the entire lucrative postseason. 

Make no mistake, the COVID-less successes of the bubble-type situations in the NHL, NBA and WNBA helped lead MLB to this decision.  

Here are the need-to-know details about MLB’s playoff bubbles

MORE: Explaining MLB’s expanded playoff format

Where are the MLB playoff bubbles?

  • Los Angeles (AL)
  • San Diego (AL)
  • Arlington, Texas (NL)
  • Houston (NL)

The best-of-three opening rounds — called the Wild-Card Series — will be played in home parks of the higher seeds.

The best-of-five Division Series rounds and the best-of-seven League Championship Series rounds will be played in bubbles. The NL games will be played in Texas (Houston and Arlington) and the AL games will be played in California (Los Angeles and San Diego). 

The World Series (best of seven, as always) will be played in Arlington, at the brand-new Globe Life Field. 

How will the MLB playoff bubbles work?

MLB’s quarantine process will start a week or so before October arrives.

The regular season is scheduled to end on Sept. 27, and the Wild-Card Series is set to begin on Sept. 29. That’s obviously not enough time for a full quarantine heading into the postseason, so MLB is using the final week of the regular season as a de facto quarantine scenario, even though some players and coaches on contending teams — any team still mathematically alive — will still be traveling from city to city. As teams are eliminated from playoff contention, players are allowed to leave their hotel quarantine situations. 

Players will be restricted to their hotels when not at the ballpark. Even teams playing games in their home parks the final week will have to quarantine in hotels, not their own homes. COVID tests will happen daily. 

After a rough start to the season — both the Marlins and Cardinals missed long stretches of games as they dealt with COVID outbreaks, there have been only isolated issues. 

But, as New York Post reporter Joel Sherman points out …

“But MLB has strongly expressed a fear of coming this far and not concluding the playoffs and pushed hard for the safest possible protocols to finish out the year. The postseason is worth nearly $1 billion to MLB.”

Yeah. MLB is leaving as little as possible to chance. 

American League Division Series

Winner of 1-8 vs. Winner of 4-5: San Diego’s PetCo Park, Oct. 5-9
Winner of 2-7 vs. Winner of 3-6: Los Angeles’ Dodger Stadium, Oct. 5-9

National League Division Series

Winner of 1-8 vs. Winner of 4-5: Arlington’s Globe Life Field, Oct. 6-10
Winner of 2-7 vs. Winner of 3-6: Houston’s Minute Maid Park, Oct. 6-10

ALCS

San Diego’s PetCo Park, Oct. 11-17

NLCS

Arlington’s Globe Life Field, Oct. 12-18

World Series

Arlington’s Globe Life Field, Oct. 20-28

MORE: Tracking the MLB playoff picture, magic numbers

MLB playoff schedule

  • Wild-Card Series: Sept. 29-Oct. 2 (if necessary)

This is a best-of-three series, and there will be no off days.

  • Division Series: Oct. 5-10

This is a best-of-five series, and there will be no off days.

  • League Championship Series: Oct. 11-18 (if necessary)

This is a best-of-seven series, and there will be no off days.

  • World Series: Oct. 20-28 (if necessary)

This is a best-of-seven series, and there will be off-days after Games 2 and 5. 

MLB playoff bubble teams

Sixteen teams — eight in each league — will qualify for the playoffs. The first three seeds (1-3) in each league will go to division winners, ordered by record. The second trio of seeds (4-6) go to the second-place finishers in each division, ordered by record. The final two seeds (7-8) go to the two wild-card teams.

For the Wild-Card Series (best-of-three) in each league, the matchups will look like this: 

  • No. 1 vs. No. 8 
  • No. 2 vs. No. 7
  • No. 3 vs. No. 6
  • No. 4 vs. No 5

For the Division Series (best-of-five), the playoffs aren’t reset, meaning the highest remaining seed does not get to play the lowest remaining seed. For example, let’s say the No. 7 seed beats the No. 2 seed in the Wild-Card Series. Under this setup, the No. 1 seed (assuming it advances) still has to play the winner of the series between the Nos. 4 and 5 seeds, not the No. 7 seed. It’s entirely possible the No. 1 seed could face the highest remaining seed, in fact, if the No. 6 and No. 7 seeds advance through the first round.   

This is the format:  

  • Winner of 1-8 vs. Winner of 4-5
  • Winner of 2-7 vs. Winner of 3-6.

As always, the League Championship Series will pit each league’s two surviving teams against each other, and the World Series will feature the last two teams standing. 

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