Before 1993, only two teams were permitted to advance to the League Championship Series. But when expansion necessitated the formation of an additional division in each league, the playoff scenario became rather complex. Established in 1994, the Wild Card format would not be used that year due to a players strike that pre-empted the postseason. A “wild card” rule had been employed once before then—in 1981, when another players strike dramatically shortened the regular season schedule. The wild card scenario changed again in 2011 with the addition of two more teams into the mix.
Opinions vary wildly on the current format, which includes a do or die one-game showdown between two sets of Wild Card teams. Yankees manager Joe Girardi commented: “I know it’s for the excitement and the drama. But to play 162 games, you should get more than one game.” A writer from Business Insider echoed that sentiment, remarking that “The problem with the new playoff format is that four teams who fought for six months to be among the top teams in their respective leagues now have their entire seasons riding on what is essentially a crap shoot.” On the other side of the coin, there are those who support the setup established in 2011. “I think it’s working,” said baseball columnist Jay Rigdon. “…It does keep more teams involved in the playoff picture by definition, and those one-game playoff nights are some of baseball’s best theater.”
Whichever camp you align yourself with, the Wild Card format has produced some interesting results as illustrated below.
--Entering the 2016 season, five Wild Card teams had gone on to win the World Series: The Marlins in ’97 and 2003, The Angels in 2002, The Red Sox in 2004, the Cardinals in 2011 and the Giants in 2014.
--Wild Card teams appeared in the World Series for six straight years beginning in 2002.
--The Marlins currently hold the record for most postseason series wins by a Wild Card team (6). To date, they have never been beaten in a postseason series during a Wild Card year.
--The Best regular season record by a Wild Card team was compiled by the 2015 Pirates, who went 98-64. The Bucs lost the Wild Card game to the Cubs that year, 1-0.
--The worst regular season winning percentage by a Wild Card team belonged to the 1995 Colorado Rockies, who notched a .535 mark.
--During the first ten years of Wild Card play, 39 games were decided by a single run and 20 went into extra innings.