If you have watched baseball for any length of time or read about it, you will have heard the term ‘wild card.’ While this may conjure up images of baseball players throwing wild pitches ala ‘Wild Thing’ from the movie Major League, its actual meaning is far less colorful.
The wild card refers to teams that make the playoffs even when they did not win their division. These are the three baseball teams with the best winning percentages in each league behind the three division winners. There are currently six wild card teams in the playoffs every season.
While most fans would want their team to win their division and qualify for playoff spots, there is still the added opportunity for groups that don’t succeed to advance and, in some cases, go on to win the World Series – so let’s batter up for more on wild cards!
The Wild Card In Baseball: 1969 -1994
As baseball has evolved over the years, the rules and structures of the game have changed, and the wild card rules have changed too.
From 1969 until 1994, the league was structured differently, with only the winners in each league advancing to what was then known as the League Championship Series. The winners of each league would then advance to the World Series.
One Wild Card Team Per League: 1995-2011
But, as the league grew with more teams, it created issues with the existing system, so in 1995, it expanded from two divisions per league to three. In the new three-league-per-division system, each division has a team in the playoffs, with the team with the second-best record awarded a wild card spot.
Each league had four teams that were in the playoffs, the three division winners and one wild card team. This allowed teams with the best results in the league to qualify for the playoffs, even though they hadn’t won their division.
This change was introduced in 1994 but only implemented the season after.
Two Wild Card Teams Per League 2012- 2021 (Excluding 2020)
In 2011, the wild card system changed again to include two teams from each league being given wild card spots and facing each other in a sudden-death playoff. The winner of this game would then meet the top-seeded team in the Division Series.
The addition of the second wild card team in 2012 meant that the second-placed team in each league would square off against other in the MLB Wild Card game, and the winner of that would then advance to play the top-seeded team in that division.
Until this point, the team with the best record outside the league winners was guaranteed a spot in the Division Series, but since both wild card teams could come out of the same division, that guarantee was no longer applicable.
This system was in place until 2021 when the league changed the wild card structure again, and due to the impact of COVID-19 on sports in 2020, this structure was not used.
Wild Card Teams In 2022- Three Per League
Expanding the post-season further in 2022, the league moved to add another wild card team to each league to have three wild card teams. The original format of the post-season competition was that the lowest-seeded division winner and the three wild card teams would face off in this round.
This was a best of three series, and the seeded team would host all three games. This regular season eliminator format was scrapped in 2022 as the post-season expanded. In the current configuration, the 6th seed plays the 3rd seed – the lowest-seeded division winner, while the 4th and 5th seeded teams play each other.
The 3rd seed/6th seed playoffs play the top seed in the Division Series, while the winner of the 4th/5th seed playoff meets the second-seeded team in the other Division Series.
Which Wild Card Teams Went On To Win The World Series
Since the inception of the wild card in baseball, several wild card teams have gone on to win baseball’s biggest prize – The World Series -so let’s look at who those teams were and in what year they won.
Starting in 1997, the Florida Marlins won the World Series, and they did it again as a wild card team in 2003. The Anaheim Angels achieved this feat in 2002; in 2004, the Boston Red Sox did the same.
There was a seven-year gap in wild card winners until 2011 when the St Louis Cardinals won it that year, and three years later, in 2014, the San Francisco Giants took the title. Five years passed until the next wild card team won, the Washington Nationals, in 2019.
Some Other Wild Card Trivia For You
- From 2002 til 2007, there was a wild card team in the World Series.
- The only years when both teams in the World Series were wild card teams were in 2002 (Angels / Giants) and 2014 (Giants /Royals).
- The 1996 Baltimore Orioles were first wild card team to ever win a Division.
- In 1997, the Marlins were the first team to reach the World Series and win it, and by winning it again in 2003, they are the only team to have won two titles without ever winning a division.
Which Teams Have Been The Most Wild Card Appearances In The MLB
The New York Yankees have been wild cards seven times and share that title with the Boston Red Sox. Second on that list is the Colorado Rockies, which have been wild cards five times, while the Oakland Athletics have four wild card appearances.
You have the Tampa Bay Rays, Houston Astros, Orioles, The New York Mets, Pittsburgh Pirates, The Chicago Cubs, and the San Francisco Giants, all with three wild card appearances.
The Houston Astros became the first team to win a wild card in each league as they won in the National League in 2004/2005 and the American League in 2015.
Wild cards have added an exciting extra dimension to the MLB since their inception in 1969, and they give fans and the team that last bit of hope for a World Series pendant should they not win their league outright in the regular season.
The epic fairy tale story of a wild card team beating all the odds, advancing through the Division Series, and going on to win the playoffs has been played out a few times in the past, and you can be certain that there will still be some heroics to come.