October and the Major League Baseball playoffs are synonymous. That analogy used to be tied to the World Series, which was once the epitome of October, but actually goes into November now. But when October rolls in, so does postseason baseball, and it begins this week with the American League Wild Card game airing Tuesday on ESPN, followed by the National League version Wednesday on TBS.
The current Wild Card format, which is more of a win-and-you’re-in the playoffs situation, has its critics. Many feel that after enduring a long season and winning enough games to make the playoffs, that your season shouldn’t come down to just one game. However, the fact that the playoffs already go into November likely negates the possibility of extending the Wild Card to a best-of-three series.
The Wild Card’s “play-in” format is now in its sixth season. Wild Card play actually was to begin in 1994, but due to the players’ strike that year, first took place in 1995. It restructured to having three divisions in each league and decided that the second place team with the best record would earn a Wild Card berth.
In 2012, a second Wild Card team was added, and the two Wild Card teams in each league would play each other for the right to move on and face the team with the best record in each league’s divisional series.
Getting into the playoffs as a Wild Card team is a great opportunity. There have been six World Series winners that came in as a Wild Card team. The 1997 Miami Marlins were the first, and they did it again in 2003. Most recently, and under the current format, the 2014 San Francisco Giants won it all as a Wild Card team. Ironically, they beat the Kansas City Royals, who were the AL Wild Card. The Giants lost the 2002 World Series to the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, who were also Wild Card team that year. Those two World Series – 2002 and 2014 – are the only two that have featured a pair of Wild Card teams thus far.
When a season comes down to one game, it can make for some dramatic baseball. Last year (2016) the Toronto Blue Jays and Baltimore Orioles, two AL East rivals, found themselves tied 2-2 after nine innings. In the 11th, Edwin Encarnación (who is now with the Cleveland Indians) hit a three-run, walk-off home run to win the game. In 2014, the Royals outlasted the Oakland A’s 9-8 in a twelve-inning game.
The bottom line is that anything can happen in the do-or-die Wild Card games.