How Does the Wild Card Work in MLB?

how does the wild card work in mlb

Last updated on November 3rd, 2023 at 07:25 am

With the reorganization of three divisions in the American League and National League in 1995, the wild card team existed. The concept behind a wild card winner was to reward one team with a chance to enter the postseason if they were not division winners. Over the years, the wild card has expanded to add more teams into the mix, which is great for fans and players. Here is the breakdown of how the wild card works in Major League Baseball and more!


Why Did the Wild Card Begin in 1995?

There were a few reasons for the wild card expansion in baseball.


  1. Baseball moved to a six-division league, with three in the AL and three in the NL.
    With more teams joining major league baseball in the three league breakout, winning your division was getting more difficult
  2. Without a baseball salary cap, small-market teams were struggling to make the playoffs against teams with a higher budget to spend
  3. Adding two more teams (one from the AL and NL) would make the regular season more interesting since multiple teams would compete for that final playoff spot.
  4. Another round of MLB playoffs would be lucrative for the league, with better TV ratings and more expensive tickets sold.


Initially, the wild card expansion started in 1994, but the baseball strike removed the 1994 playoffs. In 1995, the rules were pretty basic for the wild card winner and game. The team with the best record (NL or AL) who did not win their division would play against the best record during the playoffs. Initially, that meant that a wild card team could not play against a division rival, but that later changed. For example, the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox would not play each other back in the day in the first playoffs since they are in the same division.


The Expansion of Two Wild Cards per League in 2012

MLB Magic Number Meaning

In November 2011, baseball announced that they would have two wild card teams make the postseason starting in 2012. The concept behind adding a second wild card winner was to set up a one-game wild-card game between the two wild card teams. Whoever won that one-game sudden death game would advance to the division series playoffs.


What about the 2020 October Classic?

For the 2020 postseason, due to the shortened season, MLB expanded the postseason number of teams. Not only did you have three division winners per league, but you also had three second-place teams in that same division and two more teams with the best record. There was a best of three wild card series, but this was an experiment with the shortened season.


What Makes the Wild Card So Interesting?


  1. It added another exciting round of MLB playoffs as a one-game do-or-die situation. One do-or-die game situation is like the NFL playoffs, making this change exciting for baseball fans and players. This one-game format means that every pitch, every at-bat, and run matters, which is rare for baseball since the season is 162 games.
  2. Adding a second team into the mix meant more teams had a fighting chance to sneak into this wild card game, which meant more free agency moves. Instead of teams selling players before the trade deadline because they felt they could not make the playoffs, now more teams are trying to make the playoffs. This switch in mentality is great for players and, more importantly, fans to continue watching their team play.
  3. Winning the one-game playoff game would immediately set you up for a disadvantage in the first round. Not only does the winning team have to fly directly to the first round (ALDS of NLDS) location, but they probably used their baseball ace to pitch the previous day. Not having their ace go immediately in game one puts the wild card winner at a disadvantage, which is fair since they did not win their division.
  4. Teams have won the World Series by sneaking into the playoffs as wild card winners. Winning the wild card during the season becomes dangerous because that team may have gotten hot right before the postseason, which can be a big momentum swing.


Has Any Team won the World Series as a Wild Card Winner?

has any team won the world series as a wild card winner

As of September 2021, here are the teams that won a World Series as the wild card winner.


  1. Washington Nationals in 2019 beating the Houston Astros
  2. San Francisco Giants in 2014 beating the Kansas City Royals
  3. St Louis Cardinals in 2011 beating the Texas Rangers
  4. Boston Red Sox in 2004 beating the St. Louis Cardinals
  5. Florida Marlins in 2003 beating the New York Yankees
  6. Anaheim Angels in 2002 beating the San Francisco Giants
  7. Florida Marlins in 1997 beating the Cleveland Indians



The MLB wild card adds an exciting twist to the long 162 game season of baseball. Before 1995, most teams would give up during the trade deadline because the MLB magic number to win their division wouldn’t happen. Now with the expansion of two wild cards in the AL and NL, more teams have a chance to make the playoffs. MLB fans can experience the playoffs like never before with the exciting tie-breaker game now in the mix.


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