Baseball Innings – What Does Top and Bottom Mean in Baseball?

- September 21, 2023

Baseball terminology can be frustrating, with lots of jargon for a new or young baseball fans just learning the game to wrap their heads around. In this article, we look at what top and bottom mean in baseball and how each inning is configured to play out.

Basketball is timed on a set number of quarters and halves that stop and start play and end the game, soccer has two 45-minute halves with extra time in some cases, and hockey is played in three periods, all timed.

Baseball, on the other hand, isn’t governed by a time clock for how long each inning is played and has no halves or real set game length outside of the early years of baseball within youth league baseball and Little League Baseball.

Continue reading to learn about what the top and bottom of an inning mean in baseball.

Top of the Inning, Bottom of the Inning, Middle of the Inning Explained

While different levels may differ regarding how many innings are played, each inning consists of a top inning, a middle inning, and a bottom inning, with the concept being for one baseball team to outscore the other baseball team before running out of innings.

How Innings Work in Baseball

In most levels of baseball throughout the various age groups across most baseball leagues and baseball organizations, an inning consists of a top of the inning and a bottom of the inning, each requiring three outs to be recorded for the inning to move on.

Once all six outs are recorded between the two halves of the inning, the inning is officially over, and the baseball game moves to the next inning.

A lone exception to the rules is for younger baseball leagues such as Tee Ball, which allow all batters on each team to bat during their half of the inning.

Top of the Inning

The top of the inning officially starts each baseball game and marks the start of the next inning, where the visiting team starts to bat.

The inning is played with the home team requiring three outs to be recorded for the top of the inning to officially be over, allowing the inning to move to the bottom.

Middle of the Inning

While not an official part of the baseball game, this relates to the middle part of the inning that separates the visiting team batting at the top and bottom inning. For upper-level baseball games, including within Major League Baseball, the middle of the inning will feature a time for fans to stretch, buy concessions at the various concessions stands, use the restroom, and even see some in-between entertainment at their favorite baseball stadiums.

Bottom of the Inning

The last part of an inning in baseball is the bottom of the inning or the bottom half of the inning.

In baseball games, the bottom of the inning consists of the same three-out requirement for the inning to be over; however, the main difference is the home team or the team dedicated as the home team bats while the visiting team takes the field.

Once three outs are recorded, the bottom of the inning is over, and the baseball game moves to the next inning in sequence until the game is over.

Frequently Asked Questions

How Many Innings Are in a Baseball Game?

The number of innings may vary from the level of play and the age group playing within that level of baseball. Most professional baseball leagues, including Major League Baseball, the Nippon Professional Baseball Organization (NPB), the Korean Baseball Organization, MLB Minor Leagues, and NCAA college baseball games, are nine innings long.

However, as you move down the various baseball leagues by league age, the total number of innings played will vary. Younger leagues like Tee Ball may only feature three or four total innings within a game, with most having a set time frame of an hour long.

Moving up, the number of baseball innings increases from four to five-inning baseball games to six-inning baseball games to seven-inning baseball games before shifting to a full nine-inning game.

Why Is There a Top and a Bottom of an Inning?

Since baseball is not played by teams alternating possession based on either a score being performed or by a team stealing/rebounding the ball or puck, innings are required to allow each team to record three outs, with the other team getting an opportunity to hit and score.

Do You Have to Complete All Top and Bottom Innings?

Not all top and bottom innings have to be played during a baseball game. This will vary from each game based on the age group and level of baseball being played, as well as which team is winning and by how many runs.

In professional baseball, including the MLB, NPB, and KBO, the first eight full innings and the top of the ninth inning must be played before a game is over.

However, the game is over after only the top half of the ninth inning if the home team is winning.

If the home team is losing, the team will have an opportunity to tie the game to force extra innings or win in the bottom of the ninth inning.

Exceptions to this rule are shortened games that may be called due to a mercy rule coming into play where the home team may be beating the away team by 10 or more runs.

This is also the case with MLB games when it comes to rain, as games can be officially completed after the top half of the fifth inning if the home team is winning and are at bat when weather forces the game to be completed.

Is the Top Inning or Bottom Inning Better in Baseball?

When it comes to the top inning or bottom in baseball being better than the other, it comes down to the players involved and what they prefer.

Most teams and players prefer to bat second while having an opportunity to tie or win the game in the last inning of play.

However, other players and teams may like to get to work first while putting pressure on their opponent. Ultimately, the answer to this question may vary based on who you ask.

Do Baseball Teams Prefer the Top vs. Bottom Inning?

The answer may vary based on which player or coach is asked. However, in most professional baseball games, teams prefer the bottom of the inning, allowing them to control how the last inning of the game goes.

If the home team is winning, they pressure the away team to score in the top of the inning. If the home team is losing, they have an opportunity to tie the game up to force extra innings or win it with a walk-off hit or walk-off home run.
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