Players and managers used words like “chaos” and “crazy” to describe a day like none baseball has ever seen. A television network will break new ground to cover it, and hard-core fans across the country can immerse themselves in it nearly all day, if they so choose.
It is the first-ever Wild Wednesday, an orgiastic, 13-hour baseball-a-thon, in which Major League Baseball will roll out an unprecedented series of eight playoff games on a virtual conveyor belt of high-stakes action.
It starts at noon Eastern time in Atlanta, with the next five games scheduled to begin every hour until the Yankees play in Cleveland at 7 p.m. Eastern time, and it lasts until the final pitch is thrown in Los Angeles between the Dodgers and Brewers, probably around 1 a.m., and half of them will be elimination games.
“It’s going to be crazy,” said Chicago White Sox pitcher Dallas Keuchel, who will pitch in the third game of the day against the Athletics in Oakland. “It’s almost kind of like a jumbled mess.”
Tuesday was the warm up-act, when baseball turned the page from an abbreviated regular season to an expanded postseason. There were four American League playoff games scheduled Tuesday, starting with the Houston Astros against the Minnesota Twins in Minneapolis.
But on Wednesday, when the National League joins the fray, the curtain will rise on the main stage for what may more closely resemble the early days of the N.C.A.A. basketball tournament than a traditional day of playoff baseball.
“March Madness is one of my favorite times of the year,” said Dusty Baker, the Astros manager, who is leading his fifth different team to the postseason. “This is like September Madness.”
The wacky schedule is the result of both the newly expanded playoff format, with 16 teams qualifying for the first time instead of the 10 there had been in recent years. There’s also a need to jam as many games as possible into a tight window — both to avoid excessive travel during the pandemic and to ensure that most of the postseason takes place in October.
Until this year, the busiest day of baseball’s postseason might involve four division-series games being played concurrently, after a pair of wild-card games to kick off the tournament. Now, there will be eight best-of-three series played concurrently from coast to coast, and a limited amount of time to squeeze them in.
“It’s a sports fan’s dream,” said Matt Olson, the Athletics’ first baseman.
All the first-round games will be played in the stadiums of the higher seeds, instead of the usual shifting between the two teams’ parks, to avoid the risk of exposure to the coronavirus through travel. M.L.B. also figured that, without fans allowed in the stadiums, giving each team a potential home game was less important.
The regular season ended on Sunday evening, and the final 16 teams and their seedings were set. Chris Marinak, M.L.B.’s chief operations officer who is in charge of scheduling, and his team got to work hammering out a first-of-its-kind road map.
“The puzzle of putting together the television schedule was tough,” Marinak said. “There were a lot of unknowns going into that last day, and you want to ensure that every team gets a chance to showcase itself in front of a national audience. I think what we came away with is a good schedule.”
ESPN and its affiliates will broadcast seven of the eight games on Wednesday, and TBS will broadcast the Toronto Blue Jays at the Tampa Bay Rays. If none of the American League teams sweep their best-of-three series, there could be eight more games on Thursday.
“I think it’s going to be a great day for baseball on Wednesday,” said Martin Maldonado, the veteran catcher for the Astros. “For people who love baseball, you couldn’t ask for more.”
And just like the devoted fans of the sport, many players will be tuned in too.
“We’ll probably end our games, go to the hotel and watch the other games,” Maldonado said. “That’s who we are.”
For baseball, it is a chance to emulate the thrill of the first two days of the N.C.A.A. tournament, when 16 games tip off on consecutive days starting in the late morning and running past midnight in different arenas.
Baker said that when he was not managing in 2015 and 2018, he went to the men’s Final Fours in Dallas and Indianapolis, and he called them the greatest sporting event he had ever been to. (Baker has managed in the World Series, so presumably he meant as a fan.)
The comparison to the college hoops showcase event was not lost on Marinak. While the jumbled sports calendar means baseball will not have the day to itself — Game 1 of the N.B.A. finals begins at 9 p.m. Wednesday — it will serve as a raucous jump-start to the monthlong postseason.
“It’s got this idea of kind of a frenzied opening couple of days with a lot of action,” he said. “Anything can happen to start off, and it creates a lot of interest and excitement.”
One signature feature of the college basketball tournament is how the various networks and platforms that televise the event switch from one location to the next to capture the most exciting or important moments.
ESPN will not do that as part of its main coverage, but it will offer a program on its ESPN+ streaming platform called Squeeze Play, which will whip around from game to game with commentary — similar to the NFL Network’s Red Zone, except with playoff games.
Most of the play-by-play announcers, plus Alex Rodriguez, the former player who is ESPN’s lead analyst, will be at the network’s main studios in Bristol, Conn. The rest of the analysts will be broadcasting from their homes.
Kevin Cash, who will manage the Rays against the Blue Jays in the fifth game of the day on Wednesday, had another comparison.
“College football,” he said. “There’s a game starting off at noon and every hour after it. It will be like college football Saturday for three straight days in baseball.”