Baseball 101: A Crash Course Ahead of the 2024 MLB Season

Photo credit:Nathan Ray Seebeck-USA TODAY Sports
Veronica Chung
28 days ago
Believe it or not, Major League Baseball (MLB) is kicking off its season in less than 10 days. With Opening Day approaching quickly, this is the perfect time to cram the basic knowledge of baseball for anyone who is trying to cram all the information. So, this is a hack for any new fans who are trying to understand the fundamentals of the beautiful and wildly confusing game of baseball. 

What exactly is baseball and how do you play it?

According to PBS, baseball involves nine players on a team and is played between two teams. The game involves nine innings that are divided into two halves. During each half of the inning, one team plays offence by batting and trying to score runs while the other team plays defence by playing directly on the field and attempting to prevent its opponents from scoring. Two teams swap places at the end of each half of the inning and the team with more runs at the end of the game wins.
The baseball field has four bases and together, they form a diamond-shaped playing field. These bases are all called first base, second base, third base and home plate. The pitcher’s mound is at the centre of the infield, and this is where the pitcher stands to pitch the ball to the batter. The zone outside of the first and third bases is called the outfield.

When do baseball teams sign and trade players?

There are two main time periods when teams sign and trade players. The first would be the offseason which spans from November to late March, and this is the period where players who’ve reached free agency will explore different signing options while baseball teams figure out if they would like to trade for players. Usually, most free agent signings and trades take place during the offseason since teams take this time to set their goals for the upcoming season or the next few years. 
Another time is the mid-season trade deadline which happens around late July to early August. This period doesn’t allow any free-agent signings but teams are allowed to trade players after assessing their teams’ needs for the remaining season. This trade deadline usually involves strict timelines and no teams are able to make further trades after the deadline expires. 

Does a baseball team’s identity largely remain the same each season?

That really depends on how a team operates and who the owner is. Generally speaking, a team mostly remains similar for one or two seasons unless the team’s performance skyrockets or plummets during that time. However, it’s important to remember that every team is different, and because of that, some teams may change more each season than others. For example, the Tampa Bay Rays tend to transform their roster more often than other teams due to their limited budget. 
Typically, teams’ rosters change the most when younger players are ready to contribute at the major league level. For the Toronto Blue Jays, this roster transformation began in 2019 with first baseman Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and shortstop Bo Bichette becoming the new cornerstones for the franchise. Another great example of this would be the Cincinnati Reds since the team traded veteran players and brought up younger players over the course of two years to start the youth movement.
In short, every team will operate differently when it comes to maintaining or changing their rosters and the best way to keep up with the movements is to check social media for any updates, especially from trusted baseball insiders.

How do divisions work in baseball?

There are a total of 30 active teams in MLB currently and each team belongs to one of the six main divisions. Each division consists of five different teams and below is the list of different divisions and leagues: 
American League (AL) East
  • Baltimore Orioles
  • Boston Red Sox
  • New York Yankees
  • Tampa Bay Rays
  • Toronto Blue Jays
American League (AL) Central
  • Chicago White Sox
  • Cleveland Guardians
  • Detroit Tigers
  • Kansas City Royals
  • Minnesota Twins
American League (AL) West
  • Houston Astros
  • Los Angeles Angels
  • Oakland Athletics
  • Seattle Mariners
  • Texas Rangers
National League (NL) East
  • Atlanta Braves
  • Miami Marlins
  • New York Mets
  • Philadelphia Phillies
  • Washington Nationals
National League (NL) Central
  • Chicago Cubs
  • Cincinnati Reds
  • Milwaukee Brewers
  • Pittsburgh Pirates
  • St. Louis Cardinals
National League (NL) West
  • Arizona Diamondbacks
  • Colorado Rockies
  • Los Angeles Dodgers
  • San Diego Padres
  • San Francisco Giants

How do playoffs work in baseball?

Based on MLB writer Anthony Castrovince’s thorough article, MLB’s playoffs involve a total of 12 teams. These twelve teams will come from six separate divisions from each league (American and National League) and the playoff format involves each of the three division winners and three Wild Card teams per league. 
In other words, the American and National League will decide playoff contenders in this format: 
  • No. 1 seed: Best league record
  • No. 2 seed: Second-best division winner
  • No. 3 seed: Third-best division winner
  • No. 4 seed: Best record among Wild Card teams
  • No. 5 seed: Second-best record among Wild Card teams
  • No. 6 seed: Third-best record among Wild Card teams
To make things easier to digest, this is what the playoff picture looked like for the National League last season:
  • No. 1 seed: Atlanta Braves (104 wins, 58 losses)
  • No. 2 seed: Los Angeles Dodgers (100 wins, 62 losses)
  • No. 3 seed: Milwaukee Brewers (92 wins, 70 losses)
  • No. 4 seed: Philadelphia Phillies (90 wins, 72 losses)
  • No. 5 seed: Arizona Diamondbacks (84 wins, 78 losses)
  • No. 6 seed: Miami Marlins (84 wins, 78 losses)
Essentially, the first and second seeds will receive first-round byes and advance directly to the Division Series. In this three-game Wild Card Series, the third seed will play against the sixth seed and the fourth seed will play against the fifth seed. Then, whichever seed wins the Wild Card series will advance to the Division Series to face the strongest division winners in a set of five games. 
Once the division series winner has been decided, the remaining four teams move on to the championship series to secure their spot in the World Series. Remember, two remaining American League teams will face off against each other, and the same will happen in the National League to decide which two teams will play against each other at the very last stage of the playoffs. 

Can you meet baseball players during the season?

Yes, but it will be a bit more challenging since players are busy with their batting practices and games. But some players will generally make themselves available before each game starts to sign and take pictures with fans. This would be the best time to meet players. The key to meeting players is patience. Don’t forget to always yield to younger fans when you can. There’s nothing better than helping to create special memories for the next generation of baseball fans. 


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