A quick look at how the last 12 years of pennant races would have looked like with a second wild card:
In six of the last eight NL races, the carte deux team finished just 1 game behind the actual wild card winner. From 2001 until now, the fifth-best NL record never been more than 4 games behind the wild card.
By contrast, this year’s race, between the Rays and Red Sox, is the only time since 2000 that the fifth-place AL team has finished within 1 game of the wild card. In eight of the last 12 years, the new card winner (assuming things played out as before) would have trailed the real winner by 5 or more games, with the 2001 Twins finishing a whopping 17 games behind the “102 win but still just a wild card” A’s.
Given that knowledge, you’d think the fifth-best NL teams would have a better record than their AL counterparts, but you’d be wrong. The AL wild cards averaged 95.42 wins to the NL’s 91.25 from 2000-2012, and their “tame cards” still led by 89.84-88.67.
In 2007 and 2002, the “Drive for Five” (“Drift for Fifth”?) would have ended in a tie in the AL, between Detroit and Seattle in ’07 and between Boston and Seattle in ’02.
In the 2007 NL, the Padres and Rockies finished the regular season in an 89-73 tie for the wild card, forcing a one-game playoff between them – exactly what would have happened under the new system.
In seven of the 24 leagues between 2000-2011, the second wild card actually had the fourth-best record in the league, beating out at least one of the division winners. In two more seasons the WC2 was tied with one of the division winners – so that quite often the “fifth” team has as good a claim to the playoffs as one of the division winners.
In the 2011 AL, 2010 AL, 2009 NL, 2008 AL, 2007 NL, 2006 AL, and 2002 NL, the two wild cards were from the same division. Getting the wild cards coming off a one game playoff, with likely disruptions to their starting rotation and bullpen, just got a little more important, relative to facing a rested division winner. Will the team with the best record still get bumped from the wild card if they come from the same division?
Similarly, holding the tiebreaker for a division lead in a “one team wins the division, one gets the wild card” scenario just got more important.
The Giants have been the “last team looking in” three times since 2000, in 2009, 2004, and 2001. The Red Sox held the distinction in both 2010 and 2011, plus they were tied for it in 2002. The Red Sox would also have had to defend their wild card win five times, more than anyone else. The Padres, Phillies, Dodgers, and Indians have been in the situation twice. The Mariners were that team once, and tied for being that team two more times.
Year WC WC-2 GB
2011 STL (90) ATL 1
2010 ATL (91) SD 1
2009 COL (92) SF 4
2008 MIL (90) NYM 1
2007 COL (89+) SD 0 (not counting playoff)
2006 LA (88) PHI 3
2005 HOU (89) PHI 1
2004 HOU (92) SF 1
2003 FLA (91) HOU 4
2002 SF (95) LA 3
2001 STL (93) SF 3
2000 NYM (94) LA 8
2011 TB (91) BOS 1
2010 NYY (95) BOS 6
2009 BOS (95) TEX 8
2008 BOS (95) NYY 6
2007 NYY (94) Det/Sea 6
2006 DET (95) CWS 5
2005 BOS (95) CLE 2
2004 BOS (98) OAK 7
2003 BOS (95) SEA 2
2002 ANA (99) Bos/Sea 6
2001 OAK (102) MIN 17
2000 SEA (91) CLE 1
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