How Wild Card Race Works Wonders

By Francis Walker
Updated: August 8, 2007

MLB LogoNEW YORK, NY. — September is the most important month in the Major Leagues. September marks the final month of the regular season. It is in the month of September that teams make a push for post season play. This season marks the tenth season since the inauguration of the Wild Card playoff berth.

The Wild Card system has made baseball more interesting, entertaining, and enjoyable to watch or read about. Aside from the three division races (East, Central, and West) in both the American and National Leagues, the Wild Card race allows teams with sub par records to compete for playoff positioning throughout the six-month baseball season.

Since 1995, three of the last nine World Series championships were won by a Wild Card team. A Wild Card team has won each of the last two championships – 2002 and 2003.

The Florida Marlins are the only Wild Card team in Major League history to have won the World Series twice. In 1997, The Marlins beat the Cleveland Indians. Last year, the Marlins beat the New York Yankees behind Josh Beckett’s 2-0 shutout in a classic game-seven pitching duel against Andy Pettite and the New York Yankees at Yankee Stadium.

The most exciting Wild Card run occurred during the 2002 post season.

That year marked for the first time in Major League Baseball history that two both Wild Card teams played in the World Series. The Anaheim Angels defeated the San Francisco Giants in the final game of a best-of 7 game series.

This season, the American League Wild Card race is contested between three teams: Boston Red Sox, Oakland Athletics, Texas Rangers, and Anaheim Angels. In addition to the Wild Card race, three of the four teams (Anaheim, Texas, and Oakland) are competing for the A.

L. West division title. Meanwhile, the Boston Red Sox are making a surge in the A. L. East division race against rival New York Yankees.

On July 16, the Red Sox trailed the Yankees by as many as 10 games.

Heading into the final month of the season, the Red Sox trail the Yankees by less than 4 games for first place in the A. L. East division.

The National League Wild Card race is just as competitive. While the St. Louis Cardinals have the best record in baseball (at least 40 games over .500), five teams are within five games of the final playoff spot: the Chicago Cubs began this week tied with the San Diego Padres. However, the San Francisco Giants, Florida Marlins, and Houston Astros are within three games of the Cubs.

Another unique aspect of the MLB playoff format is its scheduling.

In addition to the Wild Card race, each team in their respective divisions has an opportunity to be competitive. Each of the 30 teams in baseball plays 19 games against each team in their division.

For example, since the Atlanta Braves are in the same division with the 2003 World Series champion Marlins, Philadelphia Phillies, Montreal Expos, and New York Mets, the Braves would play 19 games against each team.

Plus there are 18 inter-league games in which the American League teams would play select teams from the National League. Fifteen years ago, the only way an American League team would play a National League team would be either in the World Series or spring training.

The rest of games would be decided by play against teams in the other divisions.

Since 1991, there have been three expansion teams: Marlins (1991), Colorado Rockies (1991) and Arizona Diamondbacks (1998). In the last 13 seasons, two of the three expansion teams have won three World Series championships.

The Diamondbacks became the quickest expansion team to win the World Series. Since their inauguration in 1998, it took the Diamondbacks just four seasons to win their first championship in 2001.

That spoke volumes considering the Chicago Cubs have not won a World Series since 1908 (96 years) the longest World Series winless streak in the majors. The Boston Red Sox have not won a championship since 1918.

These expansion teams have been the driving force behind the realignment of the divisions and expanding the playoffs.

Just a few years ago there were only four divisions, two in each league. A division leader could have an average lead of 20 games early in the season. But there was no Wild Card berth. Therefore, teams would fall out of contention in the first two months of the season.

Time has changed and thanks to the Wild Card scenario, baseball is more competitive than ever.