December 01, 2010
If Bud Selig's new round of playoff expansion is motivated by another sinister and unstated goal — to give the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox more chances to win the World Series — the honchos at Major League Baseball probably ought to think of another way.
By checking regular-season win-loss records since 1995, the overlords would find that the Red Sox and Yankees would have made the playoffs only one additional time each because of an extra wild card spot. Both of those instances came in the past three years — the Red Sox this season and the Yankees in '08.
On two other occasions, the Red Sox finished with the best record among non-playoff teams, but would have needed tiebreakers to make the playoffs. And only one other AL East team — the 1998 Toronto Blue Jays — would have benefited from a second wild card spot.
So, the Yankees and Red Sox franchises in this way aren't much different from the Angels, Indians and Athletics; those teams "missed out" on two AL playoff spots apiece since '95.
But you know who really got shorted? Your reigning World Series champion San Francisco Giants, that's who. The Gi'nts would have made the playoffs four more times (including 2009) if the National League had offered a second wild card spot.
Four times! So the commissioner simply is scheming to get the Giants into the playoffs more often — I knew it! Joking aside, how else would life have been different had Selig instituted two wild cards in 1995 instead of waiting 15 years to propose lending a rope to a second wild card team?
• The recent division tiebreakers in the AL Central would have been unaffected; The Minnesota Twins and Detroit Tigers in '09 and the Twins and Chicago White Sox in '08 would have gone to a 163rd, winner-take-all game regardless.
• The 1995 Los Anaheim California Angels would have made the playoffs despite the epic collapse that opened the door for the Seattle Mariners' magical run to the ALCS.
• The 1998 tiebreaker between the Chicago Cubs and Giants would have been unnecessary because both teams would've received berths. Same goes for the 2007 tiebreaker between the San Diego Padres and the Colorado Rockies. No need to slide face-first, Matt Holliday(notes)!
• The Philadelphia Phillies would be on a streak of six postseason appearances because they would have earned entry to both the 2005 and 2006 postseasons.
• The Mariners might have as many as four more playoff appearances; They would have made it in 2003, and would have been part of ties three other times, including a three-way-tie in 1996 with the Red Sox and White Sox. It would have been amusing to see how MLB figured a way through that.
• Don't like the idea of another second-place team making the playoffs? Well, at least seven third-place teams would have found their way into the playoffs with the fifth-best record in the league — '98 Blue Jays, '02 Dodgers, '06 White Sox, '07 Padres, '08 Yankees, '09 Giants and '10 Red Sox.
• Sorry Cubs! The Cubs would not have been helped by another wild card, not one bit. (Although the '95 Cubs would have won the old NL East title under the old four-division format. So there's that.)
• The 1996 Montreal Expos would have had a chance to right the wrongs of 1994.
There are plenty of other neat "what-ifs?" The ripples of possible change to history would be infinite, though we must acknowledge that things may have played out differently if an actual race for a second wild card spot were going on at the time.
But just judging from records, here's the complete list of teams that would have made it:
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