It’s October, which means the baseball postseason is here. The 2019 MLB playoffs kicked off with two wild-card games. The Washington Nationals defeated the Milwaukee Brewers, and the Tampa Bay Rays defeated the Oakland Athletics.
No other sport features anything quite like the MLB wild-card games. Here are some crazy facts about the history of the wild-card teams (all stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference unless indicated otherwise).
MLB introduced wild-card teams in 1995
While the wild-card games in each league currently include two teams, this wasn’t how the system began.
Before 1995, baseball was made up of two divisions in each league: the East and West. MLB’s 1995 realignment saw the addition of the Central Division in both the NL and AL, as well as a fourth playoff team. The non-division winner with the best record earned the MLB wild-card position.
The league stuck with one wild-card qualifier in each league until 2012, when it added an additional team to each league as well as a play-in game.
The Miami Marlins have won the World Series twice after qualifying as a wild card
Although they were known as the Florida Marlins at the time, the Marlins have won the World Series twice after winning the wild-card. The first time was in 1997, when a star-studded team, featuring players like Gary Sheffield, Livan Hernandez, and Moises Alou, defeated the Cleveland Indians in seven games. The last game went to extra innings and is regarded as one of the most exciting games in MLB history.
The second championship came in 2003 when a Marlins team featuring fewer stars but just as much talent toppled the juggernaut New York Yankees in six games.
The Oakland Athletics are the worst wild-card performers
Despite fielding competitive teams year after year while playing in a small market, the Oakland Athletics have yet to advance past the wild-card game the three times they’ve appeared in it. They’re 0-3 in wild-card games — the worst record for any single team. Oakland’s losses include:
- 2014 to the Kansas City Royals
- 2018 to the New York Yankees
- 2019 to the Tampa Bay Rays
The A’s also had the most regular-season wins by a wild-card winner. In 2001, the team qualified with 102 victories. Unfortunately, they lost to the New York Yankees in the ALDS, 3-2.
Only two teams have advanced from the wild-card game to the World Series
The wild-card game is exciting for fans, but it places a premium on winning the division. After all, forcing teams to play an additional game to qualify for the postseason tournament puts them at an extreme disadvantage and rewards the division winners.
This challenge is reflected by the fact that only one team has ever advanced from the wild-card game to win the World Series: the 2014 San Francisco Giants. That season, the Giants defeated the Kansas City Royals in seven games. The only other team to get to the World Series as a wild card? Funnily enough, the 2014 Kansas City Royals. That year’s Fall Classic included all wild-card game-winners.
Three teams have won the wild-card game twice
It’s not necessarily a good thing to have success in the wild-card game as it does indicate an inability to win the division. But three teams have qualified and won the wild-card game twice since it became a part of baseball’s postseason:
- Tampa Bay (2013, 2019)
- San Francisco Giants (2014, 2016)
- New York Yankees (2018, 2019)
The Yankees also lost the game once, in 2015, to the Houston Astros.