A look at how new postseason format could apply to O's

On one level, the Orioles have already put 14 years of misery to rest by clinching their first winning season since 1997. Now they're seeking another first since that same year - a playoff berth.

While it isn't a certainty with their final 13 games coming against AL East foes, the O's chances look good with a little bit of padding in the wild card standings and a narrow margin behind the Yankees for first place in the division.

Baseball's playoff format is a little different from the last time Baltimore experienced the postseason with this year's addition of a second wild card.

With that in mind, here's a basic look at the playoff calendar, subject to change barring unforeseen tiebreaking procedures:

Wednesday, Oct. 3 - Final day of the regular season.

Thursday, Oct. 4 - Off-day (built into the schedule for tiebreakers, weather-related make-ups that could impact standings, etc.).

Friday, Oct. 5 - Wild card games played in each league (one game, win-and-you-advance format).

Saturday, Oct. 6 - The American League Division Series or the National League Division Series begin, pitting the No. 2 seed against the No. 3 seed. The lower-seeded team hosts the first two games of the best-of-five series.

Sunday, Oct. 7 - The ALDS and NLDS series involving the No. 1 and No. 4 seeds begin at the home of the lower-seeded team, which hosts the first two games of the best-of-five series. Game 2 of the ALDS and NLDS between the No. 2 and No. 3 teams is played at the home park of the lower seed.

Monday, Oct. 8 - Game 2 of the ALDS and NLDS between the No. 1 and No. 4 seeds, at the home park of the lower seed. Travel day for the other series.

Tuesday, Oct. 9 - Game 3 of the ALDS and NLDS between the No. 2 and No. 3 seeds, moving to the ballpark of the higher-seeded team for the remainder of the series. Travel day for the series between the No. 1 and No. 4 seeds.

Wednesday, Oct. 10 - The No. 1 seeds (the teams with the best record in each league) finally realize the reward of a home playoff game as the ALDS and NLDS involving those teams shift to the top-seeded teams' home ballpark for the remainder of the series. Game 4 of the other ALDS and NLDS (if necessary) at the home park of the higher seed).

Thursday, Oct. 11 - Game 5 of the ALDS and NLDS between the No. 2 and No. 3 seeds (if necessary) is played at the home field of the higher seed. Game 4 of the ALDS and NLDS involving the No. 1 and No. 4 seeds (if necessary) is played at the home park of the No. 1 seed.

Friday, Oct. 12 - Game 5 of the ALDS and NLDS (if necessary) between the No. 1 and No. 4 seeds is played at the home park of the No. 1 seed.

Saturday, Oct. 13 - Best-of-seven American League Championship Series begins in the home park of the higher seed.

Sunday, Oct. 14 - Best-of-seven National League Championship Series begins in the home park of the higher seed.

Wednesday, Oct. 24 - Best-of-seven World Series begins in the home park of the NL representative (by virtue of the NL's victory in the All-Star Game).

And thus, the ramifications for the Orioles are completely up in the air.

They might be involved in the wild card game, they might not. It appears the most likely situations are that the Orioles either face the AL Central champ by winning the division, or play in the wild card game for a crack at the AL West victor. (The West entered Monday with the top two record-holders in the American League.)

The list of Baltimore's possible opponents for the wild card and Division Series remains quite lengthy: A's, Rays, Tigers, Yankees, White Sox and Rangers.

Then again, the Orioles could miss the playoffs altogether, which would likely be a disappointment to most fans even though this season has been a smashing success in comparison to recent Charm City summers.

So let's look at it in the frame of the O's current situation where they would claim the second wild card with the A's taking the first and the Yankees winning the division. In that situation, Baltimore would open Oct. 5 at Oakland in the wild card game for a likely matchup against the AL-leading Rangers in the Division Series.

Then say the Orioles beat the Athletics. Because of the desire to eliminate off-days in each series and have the playoffs over by Nov. 1, Baltimore would benefit from being the lower seed by hosting the first two games of the best-of-five meeting with Texas.

So the O's would fly back across the country and host Games 1 and 2 against the Rangers at Camden Yards from Oct. 7-8. Baltimore wouldn't play at the favored club until Oct. 10 in Game 3. The last three games of the series would be hosted by the team with the better record.

The best-of-seven ALCS would revert to a more traditional format with the favored squad opening the series at home on Oct. 13. At this point, the Orioles wouldn't likely earn that right unless they win the division or advance to play a team from the AL Central.

Because of MLB rules, MASN won't be able to broadcast any of the games, though the Orioles' regular-season television rights-holder will continue to air "O's Xtra" pregame and postgame shows. And you'll have the best coverage available of the Orioles' playoff run right here on MASNsports.com, which will have staffers with the team every step of the way.

As for where to watch the games, all tiebreaker tilts and Oct. 5 wild card games will be aired on TBS, which will also air 18 of the 20 LDS games, with MLB Network airing its first live playoff games Oct. 7 and Oct. 10 (games to be determined). TBS also has the ALCS while FOX will present exclusive coverage of the World Series.

The specific dates listed above could all be moot if the nightmare scenario occurs: more than two teams are involved in ties atop divisions or for the wild cards.

Only one day was left after the regular season for tiebreaker games, so all of this could be pushed back and shuffled if the exciting but schedule-smashing tiebreaker games come to fruition. The races for all three AL divisions and the wild card are tight enough that the possibility doesn't seem so farfetched. And don't even think of what might happen if weather has a negative effect on the tiebreakers or wild card games.

But for now, assume that won't happen and the schedule outlined above is accurate. That should help you pencil a possible O's postseason schedule onto your calendar.

But hang loose. It could definitely change.

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