How the MLB Season Works

If you do not live somewhere that MLB coverage is common, it can be difficult to learn all of the different stages of the season and figure out which games are played when. Hopefully this will help you out some.

League Structure

MLB, or Major League Baseball, is the highest form of professional baseball in the world. The league consists of 30 teams across the United States and Canada. There are two main groups within Major League Baseball, called the National League and the American League, or the NL and the AL.

The NL and AL have 15 teams each and are not divided by geography. The only real difference between the two is that the AL uses a designated hitter (someone who bats for the pitcher) and the NL does not. The AL and NL are each divided into three divisions: the West, Central, and East (so we’ve got the AL West, NL West, AL Central, etc.) which are based on geography.

For many years NL teams only played other NL teams and AL teams only played other AL teams, and the season would culminate with the championship being between the winners of each league. But in 1997, teams began something called Interleague Play, in which a few regular season games were played between NL and AL teams.

You can find a list of all the teams and their divisions here.

The Season

One of the most special days in the MLB season is that day that Pitchers and Catchers Report, which means that pitchers and catchers arrive at the place where their team holds Spring Training. Pitchers are the first to arrive so they have a few days of preparation before the rest of the team shows up.

Spring training is the pre-season of baseball. Every team has its own field in either Florida or Arizona where they gather in February for a few weeks of practice before they start playing spring training games against other teams. These games do not count and are really designed to be practice for players to get back into shape for the season and younger players to have some time playing against veteran players.

Spring training will last for about a month, at which point the regular season starts. Opening Day is the first day of regular season play, it is typically in late March. Every team plays 162 regular season games, 81 at home and 81 on the road. Typically teams will play each other three nights in a row (games usually start at 7:05pm) in order to reduce travel (for example, St. Louis and Milwaukee will play a game on June 10, 11, and 12. St. Louis will then travel to Pittsburgh for three games and Milwaukee will play San Francisco for three games). Most teams will play every day, seven days a week, but no team will play more than 20 days in a row without at least one day off.

The only break in the regular season is in mid-July, the halfway point of the season. This is a three-day break for the All-Star Game.

The regular season lasts until late September, when the playoffs begin. The winner of each division (six teams) plus two wild card teams from each league (the teams with the best record who did not win their division) advance to the playoffs. These teams will play best-of-seven game series, in which the first team to win four games advances to the next round.

Ultimately, the winner of the NL and the AL meet in the championship, which is called the World Series, sometime in October. The first team to win four games in the World Series is crowned champion… it’s not an easy thing to win though, with players having played a game almost every day for nine months.

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