MLB.com Columnist

Tracy Ringolsby

Wild Card berths offer promise for exciting second half

As of the All-Star break, 18 teams were within 5 games of a playoff spot

Wild Card berths offer promise for exciting second half

The Wild Card was created for seasons like this. Because the odds are against a handful of down-to-the-wire pennant races this September.

With the All-Star Game in the rearview mirror, and sights now set on the second half of the season, the American League East is the only division where the leader -- the Orioles -- has less than a 5 1/2-game lead, as Baltimore sits two games in front of Boston and Toronto.

There are, however, 18 teams that went into the break with a winning record, and all of them are within five games of a postseason invitation.

And isn't that what the Wild Card is all about -- giving teams and their fans hope as the calendar turns to August and September? Isn't that why the Wild Card was added after the Giants won 103 games in 1993 but finished a game back of the Braves in the National League West?

The Giants became the seventh 100-win team to fail to make it to the postseason. All seven of those teams -- the 1909 Cubs (104 wins), '15 Tigers (100 wins), '42 Dodgers (104 wins), '61 Tigers (101 wins), '62 Dodgers (102 wins), '80 Orioles (100 wins) and 93 Giants -- would have been a Wild Card winner.

And there is certainly hope for the Wild Card team once it advances to the postseason.

Since the advent of the Wild Card in 1995, 12 Wild Card teams have advanced to the World Series, including in 2002, when the AL Wild Card-winning Angels needed seven games to claim the World Series championship against the NL Wild Card-winning Giants.

The Angels are one of six Wild Card winners to claim a World Series title. The 1997 Marlins were the first, beating the Indians in seven game, followed by the Halos in 2002, the Marlins again in '03, the Red Sox in '04, the Cardinals in '11 and the Giants in '14.

Wild Card teams which lost in the World Series were the 2000 Mets, '02 Giants, '05 Astros, '06 Tigers, '07 Rockies and '14 Royals.

Since MLB went to three divisions per league and added the Wild Card teams in 1995, only six clubs that trailed by five games or more at the All-Star break managed to win a division, including the 2015 Rangers, who were in third place and six games back of the Angels at the All-Star break last year.

The Rangers, however, went 46-28 after the break, jumping over both the Astros and an Angels team that went 37-37 in the second half. The Halos became the fourth of those six division leaders to blow leads of five or more games that didn't claim a Wild Card spot.

In 1995, the Rangers went from first in the AL West at the All-Star break to third, when the Mariners rallied to win the division after taking a 34-35 record into the break. Seattle was six games out as late as Sept. 12.

In 2003, when the Twins, 7 1/2 games out at the All-Star break and still 6 1/2 out on July 29, won 39 of their final 57 games to claim the AL Central, while the Royals slipped from first to third by season's end.

And in 2001, the Indians rallied from a five-game deficit to claim the AL Central, while the Twins, who were 55-32 at the break, went 30-45 after the break and watched the postseason from home.

While Oakland claimed the AL Wild Card that season with 102 wins, Minnesota would have also advanced if the second league Wild Card was in place.

The Wild Card did benefit the 2012 Rangers and '06 Tigers.

In 2012, when the A's rallied from a nine-game deficit at the All-Star break to claim the AL West, the Rangers, who led at the All-Star break, went 41-35 after the break and claimed an AL Wild Card berth. Texas was eliminated in the Wild Card Game by Baltimore.

In 2006, when the Twins rallied from an 11-game All-Star break deficit, the Tigers not only held on to claim a Wild Card spot, but they won the AL pennant before losing the World Series vs. the Cardinals.

And the Wild Card has assured the fans of most teams that they will have a rooting interest in what happens during the second half of this season.

Tracy Ringolsby is a columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.