Baseball and softball are back in the Olympics for the first time since 2008, courtesy of a new IOC rule that allows host cities to propose the addition of certain sports to the Olympic program. Both sports are extremely popular in Japan, and the host nation is expected to be a medal favorite in baseball.

Here’s what to know about baseball and softball at the Tokyo Olympics.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What is the format for the Olympic baseball tournament?
  • Who are the favorites?
  • What is the schedule for softball?
  • What is the schedule for baseball?
  • How did teams qualify?
  • How did baseball get re-added as an Olympic sport?

What is the format for the Olympic baseball tournament?

For baseball, the six-team field will be split into two three-team groups. Every team will play one game against the other two teams in its group. The knockout stage will begin with benefits earned by the best teams in the group stage. The teams with the worst record in each group will play each other, with the loser getting knocked out. The winner will remain in a 10-game double-elimination tournament in which the group-stage winners receive first-round byes, but play one another. The team that comes out of the loser’s bracket only needs to beat the team that emerges from the winner’s bracket once in the gold medal game.

For softball, all six teams will play one another in a 15-game round robin. The top two teams will play to decide gold and silver, and the teams ranked third and fourth after the round robin will play for bronze.

Who are the favorites?

Japan is the favorite in baseball. No active MLB players are playing in the Olympics. Unlike the United States and other baseball-playing nations, Japan will send most of its best players to the tournament, excepting MLB stars such as Shohei Otani. The Japanese professional baseball league will pause to allow its best players to compete. (South Korea’s will, too, but Japan has greater talent.) Ace Masahiro Tanaka, long a staple of the New York Yankees’ rotation, returned to Japan this offseason, which made him eligible for the Olympics. American fans also will have their best chance to watch Tomoyuki Sugano, a 31-year-old right-hander who flirted with MLB this winter only to return to Japan and sign the biggest one-year contract in Nippon Professional Baseball history. In 2020, he went 14-2 with a 1.97 ERA.

The United States is the favorite in softball. At the last major international tournament, the 2019 Pan-American Games, the United States outscored opponents 45-6 and went 7-1 on its way to a gold medal. Haylie McCleney hit .609 and belted three home runs in that tournament. The United States will be challenged by Japan and Canada, the only team to beat the Americans in the Pan-Ams.

What is the schedule for softball?

All times Eastern.

July 20-26

Opening round games

July 27

Midnight: Bronze medal game

7 a.m.: Gold medal game

Find the complete schedule here.

What is the schedule for baseball?

All times Eastern.

July 27-31

Opening round games

July 31

11 p.m.: Knockout stage Game 1

Aug. 1

6 a.m.: Knockout stage Game 2

11 p.m.: Knockout stage Game 3

Aug. 2

6 a.m.: Knockout stage Game 4

Aug. 3

6 a.m.: Knockout stage Game 5

11 p.m.: Knockout state Game 6

Aug. 4

6 a.m.: Semifinal 1

Aug. 5

6 a.m.: Semifinal 2

Aug. 6

11 p.m.: Bronze medal game

Aug. 7

6 a.m.: Gold medal game

Find the complete schedule here.

How did teams qualify?

In baseball, the six-team field was set through a series of qualifying tournaments spread around the world, with Japan receiving an automatic berth as the host nation. The process was severely hindered by covid complications, with multiple countries that could have contended for medals — notably Australia and Chinese Taipei — pulling out of qualifying tournaments. Baseball-mad countries Cuba and Venezuela did not make it, while Israel — the 24th-ranked team in the world — sprung several upsets to reach Tokyo.

In softball, Japan qualified automatically as the host nation, and the United States qualified by virtue of winning the 2018 world championship. The last four teams in the six-team field qualified through a series of regional tournaments.

How did baseball get re-added as an Olympic sport?

After the 2008 Olympics, IOC members voted against baseball remaining in the Games by a 54-50 vote. But an ensuing rule change allowed host cities to propose additional sports. Baseball and softball are two of the most popular sports in Japan, and so the Tokyo organizing committee sought to add them. It received its wish in 2016. Baseball and softball will not be part of the program in 2024, but they could possibly return for Los Angeles 2028.