In Major League Baseball (MLB), the wild card teams are the three teams in each of the two leagues (American and National) that have qualified for the postseason despite failing to win their division. Those teams in each league possess the three best winning percentages in their league after the three division winners. The wild card was first instituted in MLB in 1994, with one wild card team per league advancing to the Division Series in the postseason to face a division winner.

In 2012, the system was modified to add a second wild card team per league and pit each league's wild card teams against each other in a play-in game – the MLB Wild Card Game – the winner of which would then advance to the Division Series and play the team with the best record. The two teams with the best records outside of the division champions advanced to the wild card game. The two wild card teams could come out of the same division so there was no guarantee a team that came in second place in their division would make the playoffs.

The system was changed in 2022 to add a third wild card team from each league, along with replacing the play-in game with three-game series.

One wild card per league (1994–2011)

From 1969 through 1993, the division leaders in each league advanced to the League Championship Series, with the winners of each LCS meeting in the World Series. However, an expanding number of teams in MLB over the years made making the playoffs increasingly difficult. The new system was instituted in 1994 (but first used in 1995 because a players strike canceled the 1994 playoffs) when Major League Baseball expanded from two to three divisions per league. In the new three-division leagues, each league had four teams in the playoffs; in addition to the three division winners, the division runner-up with the best record received a wild card spot. This assured that the team with the second-best record in its league would qualify for the postseason even if it was not a division champion.

Thus, a third postseason round was added, the Division Series. From 1995 to 1997, a yearly rotation was used to decide the match-ups in the Division Series, although the wild card team was prevented from playing its own division's champion. Beginning in 1998, the team with the best record in the league would typically face the wild card team and the other two division winners would play each other, with second-best division winner having home-field. However, if the division winner with the league's best record and the wild card team came from the same division, the wild card would face the second-best division winner in the league.

Historic anomalies

A "wild card" rule was used in the 1981 season after a players' strike wiped out the "middle third" of the season. The owners decided that the winners (in each division) of each "half" of the abbreviated season would make the playoffs, with the caveat that if the same team won both halves then that division's team with the second-best record from the second half would enter the playoffs as a wild card. However, the wild card rule was not actually used since all four divisions had different first half and second-half winners. As a result of the hastily contrived format, the Cincinnati Reds finished the regular season with the best record in all of baseball (66-42 .611) but failed to qualify for the playoffs because they finished 0.5 game behind the Dodgers in the first half and 1.5 games behind the Astros in the second half. The Astros finished 8 games back in the first half and the Dodgers 6 back in the second.

For the 2020 postseason only, because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the playoff field expanded to include the second-place teams in each division, followed by the wild card teams represented by the next two best records from each league. All eight teams played in a best-of-three Wild Card Series.[1]

Two wild cards per league (2012–2019, 2021)

Further information: Major League Baseball Wild Card Game

On November 17, 2011, MLB announced that it would be adding two wild card teams to the postseason.[2][3]

The two wild card teams in each league faced each other in a one-game playoff. The Wild Card Game winner advanced to play the best-ranked division winner in the Division Series. The revised playoff system began with the 2012 season.[4][5] As mentioned previously, this system was not used during the 2020 season because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Three wild cards per league (2022–present)

Starting with the 2022 season, MLB added a third wild card team in each league. In the new Wild Card Series, the top two division winners in each league receive a bye to the Division Series, while the lowest-seeded division winner and three wild card teams will play in this round. A best-of-three series will take place, with the higher seed hosting all three games.[6] Due to the expansion of the postseason beginning in 2022, the regular season tie-breaker game format has been eliminated.[7][8][9] The winner of the 4 vs. 5 seeded matchup faces the top seeded division winner in the Division Series, while the winner of the 3 vs. 6 seeded matchup faces the second seeded division winner in the other Division Series as there is no reseeding in between rounds.

Wild card winners by year and by most wild card titles

For each league's list of wild card winners by year and teams with most wild card titles, see:

Notable wild card team achievements

See also

Notes

  1. ^ Before 2022, only one wild card team per league could advance to the Division Series; as such, two wild card teams couldn't face each other in the League Championship Series until 2022.
  2. ^ The 2022 postseason expanded to six teams per league, which added the third wild card team; as such, the sixth-seeded team can reach or even win the World Series.

Footnotes

  1. ^ "MLB announces 2020 postseason schedule". MLB.com. Retrieved 2020-09-15.
  2. ^ Lacques,Gabe (2010-11-17). "MLB adds 2 wild cards, moves Astros to AL". USA Today. Retrieved 2011-12-02.
  3. ^ "Baseball adds wild cards, moving Astros to AL". 2011-11-18. Retrieved 2023-12-04.
  4. ^ "MLB to expand playoffs by two teams to 10". ESPN.com. 2012-03-02. Retrieved 2023-12-04.
  5. ^ Dreger, Dan. "MLB Adds Two More Wild-Card Teams to Playoffs: The Pros and Cons". Bleacher Report. Retrieved 2023-12-04.
  6. ^ "Everything you need to know about '22 season". MLB.com. Retrieved 2022-03-10.
  7. ^ "MLB lockout: 10 important under-the-radar changes in CBA, including new schedule format and loss of Game 163". CBSSports.com. Retrieved 2022-04-29.
  8. ^ Lacques, Gabe. "RIP Game 163: MLB's new postseason system ends storied one-game tiebreaker. A 'bummer' for baseball?". USA TODAY. Retrieved 2023-02-13.
  9. ^ "2022 MLB playoffs: New postseason format explained, and why there are no more Game 163 tiebreakers". CBSSports.com. Retrieved 2023-02-13.