What Is A Wild Card In Baseball: A Second Chance for The Underdogs Or Not? 

John Means

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A Wild Card in Baseball

You probably know the hidden tricks of baseball may drive you mad at some point; if you are not well aware of them at a certain point. 

One of the uncanny terms in baseball is the wild card. So, what is a wild card in baseball? How may it affect the fate of your favorite match?

In short, wild cards are tickets to the postseason, particularly to the playoffs without winning their division. National League and American League; each of the leagues has a wild card team every season.
This was just the beginning. There is more to find out. Hop in with us to learn more about Wild Card in Baseball. 

What is A Wild Card in Baseball

To put it simply, the wild card in baseball is a cheat code for baseball teams who didn’t win the division. But they can complete the postseason with the right opportunity.

You guessed it right! There’s always a catch. Teams with extraordinary records in each division are only allowed to move on to the playoffs. 

However, if your team performs super wild in a match but didn’t end up first in their division, there’s an extra spot for them with the wild card. 

Teams who apply the wild card are known as Wild Card Teams. When the wild card teams are authorized, they play a thrilling one-game playoff; known as the wild card game. 

The conclusion of the match comes to an end. The winner of the wild card game moves to the next round while the team who loses meets their end of the season here.  

You can consider the wild game to be a second opportunity for teams who performed quite well but couldn’t win their division. 

Everybody deserves a second chance, no? In the case of baseball, only the worthy ones get it. 

Why Wild Cards? 

To engage the audience on the baseball field, surprise moves are essential. The wild card is a pathway for qualified yet non-winner baseball teams to reach the playoffs.  

One of the reasons behind applying for Wild Card is the expansion of the tournament. Imagine only one division winner proceeds to the playoff, it will lead to two rounds only.

The game would then become quick and include no drama. But when you allow the non-division winners onto the field, the match prolongs and becomes unpredictable – exactly what spectators need. 

Plus, when both leagues use their wild card, non-division winners get more chances to bring back the victory to their side. It happened in 2012. 

Wild Card Round has four different series as of 2022. You can witness a maximum of 12 games or a minimum of 8 games during the wild card round. 

So far we knew about Wild Cards in Baseball, only one team from each league was allowed in the playoffs. Recently in 2022, three wild card teams from two leagues made their way to the playoffs.

It ultimately resulted in six wild card teams per year. 

History of Wild Cards in Baseball

It traced back to 1994 when Major League Baseball addressed the imbalance between the teams in the postseason. The MLB was also looking for a way to increase fan engagement. 

When the Wild Card policy was first introduced in the MLB, only one team was authorized to have a playoff. About 20 years later, in 2012, MLB allowed another team to apply for the wild card.

History of Wild Cards in Baseball

Source: usatoday.com

This leaves two Wild Card teams (one from American League and one from National League)! They will fight for the winner’s place in one match. 

However, both leagues slightly bent the rules to get to the wild card rounds. 

For the American League, the team with the highest record among the non-division winners became the wild card team. Meanwhile, in the National League, the best two non-division winner teams competed in a one-game to figure out the wild card team.
Before the wild cards, only division winners were allowed to the postseasons. This brutally left behind the worthy teams on the sidelines due to competitive divisions. 

However, although MLB proposed to implement the wild card games in 1994, unfortunately, the player’s strike resulted in the cancellation of the entire postseason. 

In the following year, in 1995, the wild card round officially started in MLB. 

Major Changes in the Wild Card Format

Over the last eleven years, the wild card strategy went through some revisions. One significant change happened last year in 2022. It was then that MLB proposed a third team to each league. 

With this expansion, two wild card teams fought each other in the best-of-3 series. Meanwhile, the other team plays with the lowest division winner. 

2022 was also the year when Wild Card games were introduced as a series. Wild Card Games were not limited to single baseball matches only. We believe this was so far the best decision to maintain the integrity of the game. 

Why Did Mlb Change the Postseason Format?

Primarily, MLB changed the postseason format to address a few key factors: competitiveness, fan engagement, and revenue generation. 

The traditional postseason format allowed only division winners to advance. But everybody skipped the part that, the traditional format led the deserving teams with powerful records to miss the postseason. 

This raised a situation of imbalance. Fans also believed that skilled teams were left behind due to high competition in their division. 

Thus, wild cards were introduced. The new format offered the worthy teams to have the opportunity they deserve. The wild card teams compete in the postseason and overall, increase the competitiveness of the playoffs. 

Additionally, additional playoff rounds hold the suspension for a longer time. Fans can support their favorite team who might have lost in the division final but remained in the playoff session. 

Wondering about the revenue? Wild Card games are more than a scope of entertainment. This postseason expansion has proven to be financially successful for MLB.

More matches mean more tickets! Additional playoff seasons generate more revenue opportunities with boosted ticket sales, television ratings, and advertising. 

Wild Card is not the only playoff game in MLB. There are also other playoff games in MLB since the Wild Card has already taken four best-of-three series. 

How Do the Wild Cards Work in The MLB?

How Do the Wild Cards Work in The MLB

Source: syracuse.com

We had a little bit of an idea about how Wild Cards work in Baseball. Let’s get into the details. 

FYI, both the American League and the National League have three divisions; summed up to six in total. Winners from each division naturally end up in the playoffs. 

The wild card teams are determined based on their regular-season performance. Based on the recent adaption of the Wild Card format in MLB, both the American League and the National League select the two wild card teams with the best record in non-division plays. 

Once the wild card teams are determined, they participate in a one-game playoff known as the wild card game.
This game is a winner-takes-all showdown, with the winner proceeding to the next round of the playoffs and the one who loses is eliminated from further postseason playoffs.

When the wild card game is complete, the remaining teams move on to the division series. There, they will face the winners from the three divisions of each league. 

Reminder: The Division Series follows a best-of-five format, with the first team to win three games advancing to the League Championship Series (LCS).

Wild Card Games are basically called an opportunity for the non-division winners. It helps the deserving ones to reach the destination they deserve. It’s an easy equation,

Any team that is not in first place in its division will earn the Wild Card position.  

Has a Wild Card Team Won the World Series?

Yes! Believe it or not! Wild Card Teams have officially won the World Series several times. These Wild Card teams fought against all odds to overcome challenges and craft their name in history. 

The First Win

Florida Marlins (now Miami) was the first wild card team to win the World Series in 1997. Jim Leyland, a former American baseball player led the team to victory. 

The Miami Marlins won the National League wild card spot with an 86-76 record. On their way to victory, they defeated the San Francisco Giants (3-0) in the National League Division Series (NLDS) and the Atlanta Braves (4-2) in the National League Championship Series (NLCS). 

In the thrilling 1997 World Series against the Cleveland Indians, the Marlins became victorious in seven games and captured their first championship title.

The Second Win 

Another notable wild card victory in the World Series was the Anaheim Angels (now the Los Angeles Angels). They finished up second in the American League West in 2002; securing the wild card spot with a record of 99-63. 

They defeated the New York Yankees in the American League Division Series (ALDS) and the Minnesota Twins in the American League Championship Series (ALCS) in a row. 

In a memorable World Series against the San Francisco Giants, the Los Angeles Angels battled back from a three-run deficit and finally won the series in seven games. This was the  first time they ever claimed the World Series Title. 

The Third Win

One of the most remarkable wild card journeys resulted in a World Series victory for the Boston Red Sox in 2004. The Red Sox were considered the underdogs. 

They brilliantly overcame an 86-year championship by recovering from a 3-0 shortfall in the American League Championship Series against the rival New York Yankees. 

They ultimately won the series the Game-7. 

The Fourth Win 

In 2011, the St. Louis Cardinals won the World Series in a wild card team. They became the second in the National League Central with the opportunity of a wild card record of 90-72. 

The opponents were Philadelphia Phillies (2-1) in National League Division Series (NLDS) and Texas Rangers (3-2) in the World Series. 

The St. Louis Cardinals secured their 11th World Series title in a thrilling Game 7. 

That’s not all. There are more. In 2019, Washington Nationals claimed the World Series after entering a playoff as a wild card game. 

Also, remember at least one wild card team reached the World Series between 2002 and 2007. Additionally, two wild card teams subsequently faced each other in the World Series of 2002 and 2014. 

The examples are proof that wild card teams can surpass all the odds and bring the final prize. Keep in mind that, Wild Card teams fill the field with tension and drama that the audience needs.

They once again proved that nothing is impossible in the postseason. 

How Effective Wild Cards Are?

Wild Cards are one of the few effective methods as an extended part of payoff games. Wild Card rounds are shorter and filled with more thrills and excitement. 

Does the decision to change the Wild Card games into a series of games play the trick? We believe Wild Card games were the real magic. 

The chilling excitement covering a single game was legendary. However, let’s not forget about the Wild Card series. It is played into a three-game series and is believed to offer more than it can take. 

Note that, the wild card often provides a platform for underdog teams to shine. Many worthy opponents may not have won their division but have fought hard to secure a playoff spot. After all, luck doesn’t favor all the time. 

With the series being too unpredictable, teams that may not have been favored to win it all suddenly have a chance to make a deep playoff run. The spectators are thrilled with the idea that an underdog team can knock off the high-ranked team.

What do you think? Have you ever witnessed a Wild Card series? Or, saw a wild card team making it to the World Series? 

If you do, let us know your experience. Leave a comment below. Also, don’t forget to share this article with other baseball hubs to enlighten them about what is a wild card in baseball. 

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John Means

John Means is a professional baseball player who has played in the major leagues for the Kansas City Royals and the Oakland Athletics. He made his major league debut with the Royals in 2009. He was traded to the Athletics in 2012. Baseball is his favorite sport. His passion about the game is evident in his play. Now he write blogs about baseball and other things whenever he has some free time. LinkedIn

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