SABR

Who were the "second" wild card teams since 1995?

Bob Broeg St. Louis Chapter secretary Jim Rygelski gave this presentation at the chapter's regular monthly meeting on February 20 at the Original Crusoe's Restaurant. Here is an edited version of his presentation.

As Ken Rosenthal of MLB Network/FoxSports.com reported Wednesday, a second wild card team for each league may start as soon as 2012, and for sure in the 2013 season, MLB Commissioner Bud Selig has said. The following lists which teams might have been the second wild cards since the wild-card concept began in the 1995 season. A second wild card will be the non-first-place team with the best record after the wild card, and may be the third-place team in a division.

Summary

Expanded opportunities: Four franchises have never made the playoffs since the three-division/wild-card system began in 1995 (technically in the strike-curtailed 1994 season): Montreal-Washington and Pittsburgh in the National League, and Kansas City and Toronto in the American League. A second wild card would have allowed Montreal, in 1996, and Toronto, in 1998, to qualify. The New York Yankees, who have missed the playoffs only once, in 2008, would have been the second wild card that season.

Most times as second wild card: The San Francisco Giants would have profited the most from having a second wild card and would have filled that slot four times. Four N.L. and four A.L. teams each would have had two second wild-card finishes: (Philadelphia, Houston, Los Angeles, and San Diego in the N.L., and Boston, Cleveland, California-Los Angeles-Anaheim, and Oakland in the A.L.). Both wild cards would have been from the same division in three N.L. seasons (2002, 2007, 2009) and three A.L. seasons (1998, 2006, 2011). Using actual final standings produces clear second wild cards in each of the 17 N.L. seasons but in only 14 A.L. seasons because of the possibility of playoffs, described below.

Effect on tie-breakers for postseason positions: MLB has not used a tie-breaker for teams that end the season tied for first when one of the teams would have the wild card (N.L. 2001; A.L. 2000, 2006). It has used first-place tie-tiebreakers when one of the teams would have not have qualified as the wild card, or when two second-place teams tied for the wild-card slot (N.L. 1998, 1999; A.L. 1995, 2008, 2009). However, a new element may arise with determining the second wild card should such situations in recent seasons repeat themselves. The 1998 and 1999 N.L. wild-card tie-breakers would have been unnecessary since both clubs would have been wild cards. In 1996, Seattle, which didn’t make the playoffs, would have been required to make up a rained-out game, which if it lost would have resulted in a three-way tie for the second wild-card spot; MLB has never had a three-way end of the regular season tie for a postseason position. Notice the notes under the A.L. 2008 and 2009 listings below questioning how MLB would have resolved the second wild card when two teams tying for a divisional title had the same record as a team in another division who could have been the second wild card.

Rewriting history: A second wild card in 2011 would have made the epitaph on the season not read that Boston and Atlanta had “folded” but that they merely had a bad September while still qualifying for the playoffs as the second wild card. Had either the Red Sox or Braves then beaten the first wild card in the proposed one-game playoff and gone on to the World Series, the verdict would have been that they, not the Rays or Cardinals, had made a great comeback. Cardinals fans make much of the team being 10.5 games behind Atlanta on Aug. 25 and 7.5 games back on Sept. 8; however, if a second wild card had been in existence then, the Cardinals would have trailed San Francisco by a game for the second wild card on Aug. 25 and led the Giants by a game for that spot on Sept. 8.

The list below includes first-place and wild cards for each year since 1995, with notes to explain situations.

** means World Series champ
* means lost World Series

1995

  • N.L. first-placers: (E,C,W) **Atlanta, 90-54; Cincinnati, 85-59; Los Angeles, 78-66. Wild card: Colorado, 77-67. 2nd wild card: Houston 76-68. 
  • A.L. first-placers: (E,C,W) Boston, 86-58; *Cleveland, 100-44; Seattle, 79-66. Wild card: New York, 79-65. 2nd wild card: California, 78-67. Note: Seattle won first-place tiebreaker with California; if second wild card had been used, California, which won season series from Seattle, might have been declared West winner and Seattle relegated to second wild card.

1996

  • N.L. first-placers: *Atlanta, 96-66; St. Louis, 88-74; San Diego, 91-71. Wild card: Los Angeles, 90-72. 2nd wild card: Montreal, 88-74.
  • A.L. first-placers: **New York, 92-70; Cleveland, 99-52; Texas, 90-72. Wild card: Baltimore, 88-74. 2nd wild card: TBD. Note: Boston and Chicago both finished 85-77, but Seattle finished 85-76 and would have been required to make up game; who knows what would have happened if there’d been a three-way tie for the final wild card.

1997

  • N.L. first-placers: Atlanta, 101-61; Houston, 84-78; San Francisco, 90-72. Wild card: **Florida, 92-70. 2nd wild card: Los Angeles, 88-74.
  • A.L. first-placers: Baltimore, 98-64; *Cleveland, 86-75; Seattle, 90-72. Wild card: New York, 96-66. 2nd wild card: Anaheim, 84-78.

1998

  • N.L. first-placers: Atlanta, 106-56; Houston, 102-60; *San Diego, 98-64. Wild card: Chicago, 90-73. 2nd wild card: San Francisco, 89-74 Note: Cubs beat Giants in playoff game, which might not have been necessary if second wild card used; Cubs won season series from Giants.
  • A.L. first-placers: **New York, 114-48; Cleveland, 89-73; Texas, 88-74. Wild card: Boston, 92-70. 2nd wild card: Toronto, 88-74. Note: Toronto was third-place team in A.L. east behind Yankees, Red Sox.

1999

  • N.L. first-placers: *Atlanta, 103-59; Houston, 97-65; Arizona, 100-62. Wild Card: New York, 97-66. 2nd wild card: Cincinnati, 96-67. Note: Mets beat Reds in playoff game, which might not have been necessary if second wild card used.
  • A.L. first-placers: **New York, 98-64; Cleveland, 97-65; Texas, 95-67. Wild card: Boston, 94-68. 2nd wild card: Oakland, 87-75.

2000

  • N.L. first-placers: Atlanta, 96-67; St. Louis, 95-67; San Francisco, 97-65. Wild card: *New York, 94-68. 2nd wild card: Los Angeles, 86-76.
  • A.L. first placers: **New York, 87-74; Chicago, 95-67; Oakland, 91-71. Wild card: Seattle, 91-71. 2nd wild card: Cleveland, 90-72. Note: Seattle relegated to wild card because Oakland won season series.

2001

  • N.L. first-placers: Atlanta, 88-74; Houston, St. Louis, 93-69; **Arizona, 92-70. 2nd wild card: San Francisco, 90-72. Note: At the time, N.L. office declared Astros and Cardinals co-division champs but moved Cardinals into wild-card spot to get playoffs moving.
  • A.L. first-placers: *New York, 95-65; Cleveland, 91-71; Seattle, 116-46. Wild card: Oakland, 102-60. 2nd wild card: Minnesota, 85-77.

2002

  • N.L. first-placers: Atlanta, 101-59; St. Louis, 97-65; Arizona, 98-64. Wild card: *San Francisco, 95-66. 2nd wild card: Los Angeles, 92-70. Note: Both wild cards from same division.
  • A.L. first-placers: New York, 103-58; Minnesota, 94-67; Oakland, 103-59. Wild card: **Anaheim, 99-63. 2nd wild card: TBA. Note: Boston, Seattle, both 93-69.

2003

  • N.L. first-placers: Atlanta, 101-61; Chicago, 88-74; San Francisco, 100-61; Wild card: **Florida, 91-71. 2nd wild card: Houston, 87-75.
  • A.L. first-placers: *New York, 101-61; Minnesota, 90-72; Oakland, 96-66; Wild card: Boston, 95-67. 2nd wild card: Seattle 93-69.

2004

  • N.L. first-placers: Atlanta, 96-66; *St. Louis, 105-57; Los Angeles, 93-69. Wild card: Houston, 92-70. 2nd wild card: San Francisco, 91-71.
  • A.L. first-placers: New York, 101-61; Minnesota, 92-70; Anaheim, 92-70. Wild card: **Boston, 98-64. 2nd wild card: Oakland, 91-71.

2005

  • N.L. first-placers: Atlanta, 90-72; St. Louis, 100-62; San Diego, 82-80. Wild card: *Houston, 89-73. 2nd wild card: Philadelphia, 88-74.
  • A.L. first-placers: New York, 95-67; **Chicago, 99-63; Los Angeles, 95-67. Wild card: Boston, 95-67. 2nd wild card: Cleveland, 93-69. Note: New York given divisional title because it won season series from Boston.

2006

  • N.L. first-placers: New York, 97-67; **St. Louis, 83-78; San Diego, 88-74. Wild card: Los Angeles, 88-74. 2nd wild card: Philadelphia, 85-77.
  • A.L. first-placers: New York, 97-65; Minnesota, 96-66; Oakland, 93-69. Wild card: *Detroit, 95-67. 2nd wild card: Chicago, 90-72. Note: White Sox would have been from same division as Tigers.

2007

  • N.L. first-placers: Philadelphia, 89-73; Chicago, 85-77; Arizona, 90-72. Wild card: *Colorado, 90-73. 2nd wild card: San Diego, 89-74. Note: Rockies and Padres had one-game playoff, which under new rules might have been unnecessary since both would have been wild cards (Colorado won season series between teams).
  • A.L. first-placers: **Boston, 96-66; Cleveland 96-66; Los Angeles, 94-68. Wild card: New York, 94-68. 2nd wild card: Detroit or Seattle, who were both 88-74, with Tigers winning season series.

2008

  • N.L. first-placers: **Philadelphia, 92-70; Chicago, 97-64; Los Angeles, 84-78. Wild card: Milwaukee, 90-72. 2nd wild card: New York, 89-73.
  • A.L. first-placers: *Tampa Bay, 97-65; Chicago, 89-74; Los Angeles, 100-62. Wild card: Boston, 95-67. 2nd wild card: New York, 89-73. Note: White Sox and Twins had one-game playoff to decide divisional title. Twins held season-series edge on White Sox, and both teams had same end-of-season record as second wild card Yankees. How would MLB have decided that?

2009

  • N.L. first-placers: *Philadelphia, 93-69; St. Louis, 91-71; Los Angeles, 95-67. Wild card: Colorado, 92-70. 2nd wild card: San Francisco, 88-74. Note: Giants from same division as Rockies.
  • A.L. first-placers: **New York, 103-59; Minnesota, 87-76; Los Angeles, 97-65. Wild card: Boston, 95-67. 2nd wild card: Texas, 87-75. Note: Twins beat Tigers in playoff for first, though Twins handily won season series. Tigers had season series edge on Texas. All three teams had same end-of-season records.

2010

  • N.L. first-placers: Philadelphia, 97-65; Cincinnati, 91-71; **San Francisco, 92-70. Wild card: Atlanta, 91-71. 2nd wild card: San Diego, 90-72.
  • A.L. first-placers: Tampa Bay, 96-66; Minnesota, 94-68; *Texas, 90-72. Wild card: New York, 95-67. 2nd wild card: Boston, 89-73.

2011

  • N.L. first-placers: Philadelphia, 102-60; Milwaukee, 96-66; Arizona, 94-68. Wild card: **St. Louis, 90-72. 2nd wild card: Atlanta, 89-73.
  • A.L. first-placers: New York, 97-65; Detroit, 95-67; *Texas, 96-66. Wild card: Tampa Bay, 91-71. 2nd wild card: Boston, 90-72. Note: Under new rules, Atlanta, St. Louis, Boston and Tampa Bay all would have become wild cards, nullifying final-day excitement of 2011 regular season.

Jim Rygelski is the co-author, with Bob Tiemann, of "10 Rings: Stories of the St. Louis Cardinals World Championships" (Reedy Press, 2011).

This page was last updated February 29, 2012 at 3:15 pm MST.

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