Tracy Ringolsby

More the merrier: Wild Card serving purpose

Playoff expansions in 1995, 2012 have helped teams make quick turnarounds

More the merrier: Wild Card serving purpose

The 1993 season had come to an end and a San Francisco Giants team that won 103 games found itself left out of baseball's postseason, as the Braves claimed the National League West title with a season-ending 104th victory over the expansion Rockies.

The Giants finished in second place, a game out, and became the only team in the past 35 years -- and only the eighth team in Major League Baseball history -- to win 100 games and miss the playoffs.

The Giants became the poster boys for folks who wanted baseball to add the Wild Card to its postseason format. The first year of the Wild Card ended with a player strike in August that wiped out the 1994 postseason, but the Wild Card finally made its debut in '95. And 20 years later, it has provided everything baseball could have wanted, and then some.

How good has it been? Well, baseball added a second Wild Card in 2012.

With six weeks remaining in the regular season, 18 of the 30 Major League teams were within five games of a postseason invitation on Monday morning. What's more, four of the 10 teams that would be in the playoffs if the season had ended Sunday had a losing record a year ago.

The Wild Card has not only expanded the number of teams with postseason dreams, it has also given meaning to the old saying that every team goes into the regular season tied for first and with a chance to keep playing come October.

Royals fans became believers a year ago. Kansas City put an end to a 29-year postseason drought and went to the final out in Game 7 of the World Series before losing to the Giants.

This year?

A Mets team that is coming off six consecutive losing seasons in which it averaged finishing 21 1/2 games out of first is sitting atop the NL East, five games ahead of the Nationals.

The Astros, who suffered 100 losses three times during a six-year streak of losing records, are in first place in the American League West, four games ahead of the Rangers, who lost 95 games a year ago.

The Cubs, who finished an average of 27 games out of first place during a streak of five consecutive losing seasons, have the edge for the second NL Wild Card spot.

And while the Blue Jays did have a winning record a year ago, they are in first place in the AL East, looking to end a 21-year postseason drought.

St. Louis, sitting atop the NL Central in an effort to claim a fifth consecutive postseason appearance, is the only team on pace to win 100 games, but that doesn't bother fans in other cities where postseason hopes are still alive.

Give credit to the expansion of the Wild Card.

For the fourth time in history and the second time in four years, four teams coming off losing seasons are in position to advance to the playoffs. It also happened in 1998 when the Padres' dream season ended with a World Series sweep by the Yankees, and 2007 when the Rockies swept their way through the NL Division Series and NL Championship Series before being swept by the Red Sox in the World Series.

In the 20 years since the Wild Card was added, only once -- 2005 -- has the postseason not included at least one team coming off a losing season. And in addition to the Red Sox in '13, a team rebounding from a losing season claimed a World Series championship in '14 (Giants), '03 (Marlins), '02 (Angels) and 1997 (Marlins).

Prior to 1969, there was only the World Series, and only once ('65) did both World Series teams rebound from losing records the year before. In 43 of the 55 years, neither World Series team had rebounded from a losing season.

The biggest turnaround from a losing season to a playoff berth was coming back from a 97-loss campaign, which the D-backs accomplished in 1999 and 2011.

In the Wild Card era, no team has won 100 games and missed the playoffs -- like those 1993 Giants, '80 Orioles (100-62), '62 Dodgers (102-63), '61 Tigers (101-61), '54 Yankees (103-51), '42 Dodgers (104-50), '15 Tigers (100-54) and '09 Cubs (104-49).

And once the postseason starts, all teams are on equal footing. There have been, after all, 12 Wild Card clubs that have advanced to the World Series -- including a year ago, when the Giants knocked off the Royals, and in 2002, when the Angels beat the Giants in all-Wild Card World Series.

The 2011 Cardinals, the '04 Red Sox, and the Marlins of '03 and 1997 also took the Wild Card route to a title.

The Wild Card has only been in existence for 20 years. It has, however, served its purpose, building fan interest down the stretch in 18 of the 30 Major League ballparks this year alone.

Tracy Ringolsby is a columnist for Read his blog, Write 'em Cowboy. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.