Two Weeks Left, What past Seasons Tell Us About giving Chase, What Second wildcards Look Like if Available 1995-2011
Major League Baseball began using the single wild card in 1995, expanding two a second wild card starting in 2012. IN addition, playoffs were held for wild card births that would have been the equal of today’s one game playoff prior to 2012, though these counted at that time as tie break 163rd games in the regular season. Those games were all in the National League, Giants at Cubs in 1998, and Mets at Reds in 1999 and the unforgettable Padres at Rockies game in 2007. While the NL had three playoffs to settle wildcard ties from 1995-2007, the American League tie breaker games were all to decide divisions with the losers missing out on the wildcard. Those games, all memorable were Angels at Mariners for the western division in 1995, and a pair of games to settle the central crown, Twins at White Sox in 2008 and Tigers at Twins in 2009. Here, let’s look at two items, what happens if the second wild card existed from the beginning of the new system in 1995, while looking at what odds teams have for postseason play who were on the outside looking in going into the final two weeks of the regular season.
It is worth noting that had the two wild card system been in place starting in 1995, some additional games would have been played that would have changed baseball history as we know it, while surely creating more history. That memorable 1995 Angels Mariners game would have decided the division, but the loser would have played the Yankees in a wild card game and we might not have even had Yankees and mariners that gave us the first and most memorable ALDS in history to this point, Astros at Rockies would have been the NL wildcard game. The 1996 season would have been very memorable with a second wildcard, Montreal would have played the Dodgers in Los Angeles, while the American League would have been potential craziness. Baltimore won the wildcard and would have hosted a playoff against a second team, which is where things would have gone off the rails. The Red sox and white Sox were both 85-77 and a half game behind the 85-76 Mariners. Seattle would have had to play a makeup game on Monday September 30, if they had won they would go to Baltimore. Had they lost, two more playoffs would have had to be played to eliminate two of the three teams, with the survivor living to play a third elimination game at the Orioles. In 1997, all five AL teams with winning records would have gone to postseason, the 84-78 Angels would have gone to face the 96-66 Yankees for the wildcard, with a NL playoff between the Dodgers and Mets to decide who would have then played the wildcard game against the Marlins. While the Cubs and Giants did have a true playoff for the NL wildcard in 1998, the Mets were this close to creating a three-way tie missing out by a single game. In the AL Boston would have hosted Toronto for the wildcard. IN addition to the 1999 NL playoff for the wildcard between the Mets and Reds, the AL would have featured Boston at home again for the wildcard against an up and coming Oakland Athletics squad that would become well known the next five years.
IN 2000, we had the final week stretch drive where Cleveland almost caught the mariners, missing out by one game from having a playoff for the wildcard, which would have taken place under the new system. Yes, the Indians still likely would have had that very odd doubleheader on Monday September 25, hosting the White Sox for a makeup game at noon, before the regularly scheduled game that night at 7:05 against the Twins. The Dodgers would have played at the Mets in the NL, edging both the Reds and Diamondbacks by a game for that second wildcard. The final days of 2001 were so unreal in so many ways, baseball finishing on October 7 after the rescheduling due to the tragic events of 9-11, bonds shattering a three year old homer record, the Mariners trying to be the best regular season team of all time, winning two more games than that great Yankee team from three years earlier. The Astros and Cardinals tied for the division, Houston got the crown on regular season tie breaks of head to head results. That second wild card that would have opened at St. Louis would have belonged to the Giants and Barry bonds. Minnesota which had its first winning season since 1992 would have played at Oakland for the wildcard, a matchup of teams that won 85 and 102 games respectably. Oakland in fact as a wild card had the second most wins in all of baseball that season. In 2002, Minnesota would have hosted the winner of a playoff between Boston and Seattle, while the Giants would have hosted the Dodgers for the two wildcard games. In 2003, Mariners at Red Sox and Astros at Marlins would have been your wildcard games, Houston edging the Phillies by a game for that second position that didn’t exist. In 2004 before the Red Sox could have made their historic run against the Yankees coming from 3-0 down, they would have had to first win a wildcard game against Oakland at Fenway, while the Astros who came back from the dead the season’s final eight weeks would have hosted the Giants. IN 2005, the Padres won the NL west with just an 82-80 record. And they would have faced the Braves who were the eastern winners, while the best team in baseball, St. Louis would have hosted a stronger team out of the Astros and Phillies wildcard game at Minute maid Park.
The 2006 season produced a great AL Central race, three teams winning 90 or more. The white Sox would have gone to Detroit for the wildcard, Chicago finishing a game ahead of the Angels. The NL west was a tie between the Padres and Dodgers, with San Diego getting the division title on head to head matchups. The Dodgers reward would have been a home wildcard game against the Phillies and 58 homer hitting Ryan Howard.
The 2007 season is forever remembered for that Padres Rockies wild card playoff game. Under the new system, the drama of that seasons close would have been less because with two days left, the Rockies had no margin for error. They had to win twice and have the Padres lose twice just to get to that playoff game. That meant they needed five games to all come up aces, like rolling a Yahtzee on your final throw of the game. We know how that ended up. The Mets would have created so much drama though had they won that final Sunday. Under the new system, two NL East teams would have been 89-73, Mets and Phillies, the same mark held by the Rockies and Padres. So we almost had an NL East playoff, after which the loser would have had to join those teams from out west to play a second playoff before we even had our wild card game. If that was not enough, the modern system would have produced an AL playoff between Seattle and Detroit to decide who would then travel to the Yankees for that wildcard. Oh what could have been? The 2008 season would have been almost as memorable. The Mets had another collapse that took them from the division lead to missing the playoffs all together, under the new system they would have played as the visiting team against the Brewers for the wildcard. But New York would have had double the excitement, because the Yankees would have also been on the road at Boston in the AL wildcard playoff. All of that alongside the Twins and white Sox playing for the AL Central, as the loser would have not qualified for the wildcard and remember too, the White Sox had to win a home makeup game with the Tigers on Monday the 29th of September to force that playoff with the Twins. IN 2009, the same situation played out in the AL Central, but in this case, the Twins came from the dead to beat the Tigers, force a playoff between the two and win that game in extra innings. While that was going on, the wildcard would have featured Texas at Boston. IN the NL, the Rockies did not need a playoff game to advance to the NLDS, under the new system they would have hosted the Giants for the wildcard game, San Francisco edging the Marlins by a game in the 2009 standings.
IN 2010, the Padres appeared to be in route to the NL West flag, then came a 10 game losing streak. When it was over, the Padres missed out on both the division and the wildcard. Under today’s system, they would have played that wildcard game in Atlanta against the Braves, while in the AL, Red sox at Yankees would have decided the wildcard, Boston would have earned that second slot by a game over the White Sox. As for 2011, that is the example of why the new system would have not meant as much, because everything came down to the final day of that season, four games, four teams, two leagues. Tampa was all but done before pulling a victory out of a hat, while at the same time, Boston took what was a certain victory and transformed it into defeat. IN 15 minutes, it went from looking like Boston would hold on for the wildcard, to looking like a tie, to an ultimate Ray’s victory. Yes home field could have mattered psychologically to these two, but would the playoff game on Thursday have had as much impact as what went down that Wednesday night? The same was true in the NL for the Braves and Cardinals, St. Louis had an easy victory but the Braves let one get away, lost in 13 innings and missed out on a wildcard playoff with the Cardinals. In 2012, the Braves with the new system hosted the Cardinals and we all know how that turned out. The Rangers and Orioles were tied and would have had a playoff even without the extra wildcard. In 2013, the extra wildcard created its only playoff for that second birth to this point, Texas lost at home to Tampa Bay, which then went on the road and beat Cleveland for the wild card entry to the ALDS. The Pirates had a memorable NL wildcard victory over Cincinnati, the Reds don’t make it to that game without the second wildcard berth. In 2014, the Royals hosted Oakland in a game as memorable as the Rockies playoff win in 2007. If not for the new system, that game never is played, as KC would have moved strait to the ALDS. Pittsburgh and San Francisco would have had a playoff no matter the system, as they were tied in the standings, the Giants of course would win that game and go on to a World Series championship. In 2015, the Cubs won 97 games and under the old system, they would have sat at home while two other division winners with lesser win totals would have advanced to the NLDS. With the new system, the Cubs came a year ahead of schedule beating Pittsburgh in the wildcard game. Houston received similar benefit in the AL as they went into New York and handed the Yankees a shutout loss.
Now with two weeks left in the 2016 season, we have two teams in the catbird seat for the AL wildcards, the Blue Jays and Orioles, with the Mets and Giants in similar positions in the NL. The Astros, tigers and mariners in the AL are all still within 3 games as we hit the final two weeks of the regular season. The divisions are basically claimed by the Rangers, Nationals, and Indians, the Cubs have clinched, and the Red Sox and Dodgers control their own destiny. Again, let’s look at this in the wildcard era.
IN 1995, the Mariners were streaking and within 3 of the Angels, they would end in a tie and win the divisional playoff. The Rockies lead the Dodgers by 1 in the NL West, Dodgers win by 1 and Colorado takes the Wild Card. AS for the wildcards, the Yankees were a game behind the mariners with 2 weeks left, the Yankees would pass them and the Angels to take the wildcard berth. Houston was in trouble due to an 11 game late August losing streak. They were 1 behind the Dodgers in the wild card race and finished a game behind Colorado. IN 1996, Cleveland was well on the way to the AL Central title, the Yankees held off Baltimore in the East while Texas survived a four game sweep in Seattle and held off the Mariners. The Cardinals had a 2.5 game lead on Houston, the Braves lead the Expos by 5 and the Dodgers and Padres were separated by a half game. The Cardinals and Braves won, the padres and Dodgers ended up tied and San Diego got the division on tie breaks. Baltimore which held a 2.5 game lead on the White Sox for the wildcard would keep that position in the AL and Montreal, 1.5 behind the Padres finished 1 out in the NL wildcard race.
IN 1997, the dodgers and giants were tied for the NL West with two weeks to go, San Francisco wins the division with two more victories over the period and the Dodgers were left at home. IN 1998, the Rangers overcame the 1 game lead the Angels had in the AL West, all other teams did not lose their postseason berth, though the Cubs had to hold off the Mets and Giants. The Giants came from 3.5 back to force a playoff that they would lose and the Mets finished in the same position where they were with 14 days left in the season, a single game out.
IN 1999, The Reds were four behind the Mets and caught them for the NL wildcard, even passing Houston briefly for the division lead after being 3.5 back. All others would be unchallenged the rest of the way. In 2000, the AL West saw Oakland 2.5 behind Seattle take the division with the Mariners settling for the wildcard. Cleveland was 2 games but 4 wins behind Seattle with lots of games to makeup due to weather earlier in the season. The Indians would in theory have to win all 4 to pull into a tie, they fell a game short.
The conclusion of play on Sunday September 23, 2001 would mark two weeks left on the revised 2001 schedule following 9-11. The Braves had a half game lead on the Phillies and 4.5 on the Mets, Houston lead the Cardinals by 4.5, while the Diamondbacks had a lead of 2 on the Giants, 4 on the Dodgers for the NL divisions, the Cardinals were up 3 on the Giants for the wildcard. Everything in the AL was long since settled. The Braves would pull away from the Phillies and win by 2, Houston would be caught and passed by the Cardinals, with Houston forcing a tie on the season’s final day and getting the division with a better record straight up against the Cardinals. The Giants could not make up ground in the wildcard race. In 2002, the Angels lead Oakland by a game, the teams would flip positions between division winner and wildcard, Oakland went 10-3, the Angels 5-8. NL standings would not change, Giants held off the Dodgers for the wildcard.
IN 2003, the Twins and white Sox were tied, 3.5 ahead of the Royals. Minnesota which had been on a hot streak would continue to play well going 10-3 and taking the AL Central. Seattle 3.5 behind Oakland would finish 2 back in the AL West. Houston would blow its NL Central lead, the Cubs 2 back would win the division by a game.
One of the more dramatic changes was in 2004. Oakland lead the Angels by 3 and the Rangers by 5. Texas would sweep three from Oakland to create a wild race to the finish and when it was done, the angels won the division by a game. But the NL also saw a bitter end. The Cubs who had been expected to be a contender went cold down the stretch. They went into the final weeks a half game behind the Giants and a half game ahead of the Astros. Down the stretch, Houston went 9-3 to take the wildcard, the Giants were 7-5 and the Cubs 7-8, 3.5 games behind the Astros winning pace.
IN 2005, Boston was 1.5 ahead of the Yankees, they finished in a tie. The White Sox 3.5 ahead of Cleveland saw the Indians move to within 1, but the Sox would win the division and Cleveland would miss the wildcard as well. The Angels were 2 ahead of Oakland and held on for that division. The NL divisions would maintain their leadership to the end. The Astros would hold off the Phillies and the marlins would fade, giving Houston the wildcard.
In 2006, Detroit lead Minnesota by a game, it would flip with Minnesota winning the division by a game. The story was in the NL, where Houston 8.5 back and in third made a strong charge the final two weeks, falling just a bit short by 1.5 games, cutting 7 off the Cardinals lead. If Houston had won the final day of the season, they would have forced the Cardinals into a makeup game Monday and if they had lost it, the Astros would have had a divisional playoff.
In 2007, the Rockies would do what the Astros almost did the prior year. The Red Sox and Indians would hold off the Yankees and Tigers, the Angels were cruising to a division flag. But then there were the Mets, 3.5 ahead of the Phillies and it had been a larger lead than that days earlier. When it was over, the Phillies had come all the way back. The Cubs who were a game ahead of the Brewers would hold on to win the central. The Diamondbacks were 2 ahead of San Diego, the padres finished 1 back and were a wild card. The dodgers were 4.5 back, they did not make it. But then there were the Rockies, 6.5 back at 77-72. They would finish 1 back and tied with the Padres for the wildcard.
, making up 4.5 games on the Padres and winning that playoff game. Usually for a team to make up 4.5, they play well and have another team slump, like 2001 when the Cardinals caught the Astros. But in this case, the Rockies played out of their mind, going 12-1 over the final 13 games, the Padres were 8-6 and that does not count that game #163 played in Denver between the two clubs.
IN 2008, the White Sox were 1.5 ahead of the Twins, they were a half game back and had to win a makeup game and a playoff game to avoid a difficult finish to their season. Tampa Bay would pull away from Boston and win going away in the AL East. IN the NL East, the Mets repeated the script from 2007, still up a game they would finish a game out to the Phillies and again miss the playoffs. Milwaukee held off a charge from the Astros to take the wild card, also holding off the sliding Mets.
IN 2009, as mentioned before, Detroit let it get away and lost to the Twins. Detroit was up 3 with 14 days to go, that lead would go to as much as 4.5 before it got away. The only scare in terms of other races was in the NL West, the Rockies 5 behind the Dodgers pulled away to take the wildcard and nearly caught the Dodgers, finishing 3 back.
In 2010, the Yankees were a half-game ahead of the Rays, Tampa Bay won the division by a game and the Yankees settled for the wildcard. The Giants were a half-game ahead of the Padres and won the NL West by 2, the Braves would see a 2.5 wild card lead end up at 1 over San Diego. The 2007 season is remembered for the great rally by the Rockies, 2011 is remembered for the comebacks of the Rays and Cardinals that were in part aided by the collapse of the Red Sox and Braves respectably. The final 14 days, the Rays went 9-5, Boston was 4-10 and Tampa Bay 4 games back took the wildcard. IN the NL race, the Cardinals went 9-4, the Braves were just 3-9 and Atlanta blew a 4.5 game lead with 14 days to go. The only team to blow a lead of at least 4 in the wildcard era and do so over the 14 final days playing over .500 are those ’07 Padres.
In 2012, the Rangers blew a lead of 4, finishing a game behind Oakland and settling for a wildcard berth. The white Sox were 2 ahead of Detroit, they missed the playoffs all together finishing 3 back in the central, while the Yankees pulled away from the Orioles to win that division by 2 games. IN 2013, the NL Central was the division up for grabs, Pittsburgh and the Cardinals were tied, 3.5 ahead of Cincinnati. In the AL wildcard race, the Rays, Rangers, and Indians were at the top of the heap, Cleveland would get the top spot and Texas would play Tampa Bay for a playoff to decide the second one. The Orioles 2, Yankees 2.5 and Royals 3 back would all come up short. In 2014, the Royals were at the heels of the Detroit Tigers but could not catch them, settling for a wildcard. The Royals would catch and pass Oakland for the home field, both holding off Seattle which was a game behind KC and finished a game behind Oakland. Pittsburgh which lead the Brewers by 1.5 for the NL second wildcard would pull away with help from the Brewers. Pittsburgh would finish 9-4, Milwaukee just 4-8. Then in 2015, Toronto and the royals would pull away, while Texas held off Houston in the AL West. The Rangers 1.5 ahead won the division by 2. Houston and the Yankees would keep their spots in the wildcard standings, the Astros held off the Twins down the stretch, with Houston finishing 3 ahead of the Twins and 1 ahead of the Angels, Minnesota and the Angels trailed by 2.5 going into the penultimate week of the season.
What this shows is the majority of the time, teams with even a 1 or 2 game lead end up the division or wildcard winner and if teams do blow a lead, it is usually not more than 3 games. NO team has made up more than 4.5 games in the standings to catch the team they were chasing the final 14 days, 2001 Cardinals, 2007 Rockies, 2011 Cardinals and in those situations, no team stood between the Cardinals and the teams they were chasing, one team the Dodgers, was between Colorado and San Diego in the 2007 standings. While the Giants did come from 5 back with a week to go to catch the Cubs, they did not pass them and lost the playoff game at Wrigley.
So enjoy the races these last two weeks everyone, but know that the Orioles and blue Jays are in a significant position of strength even as the AL East teams do beat up on each other these last two weeks. The Cardinals who are 1 behind the Giants and 2 behind the Mets for the NL wildcard positions are also history says in the worst position. It doesn’t help that the Cardinals have a more difficult schedule.