MLB.com Columnist

Tracy Ringolsby

Wild Card continues to pay dividends for MLB

Teams, fans benefit from excitement of expanded postseason field

Wild Card continues to pay dividends for MLB

OK, Commissioner Emeritus Commissioner Bud Selig did have a good idea. The longer the Wild Card has been around, the better it has proven to be.

It was a major break with tradition back in 1995, when MLB decided to realign to three divisions in each league and add a Wild Card to the American League and the National League.

And there was some opposition.

"You, and your friend [former Rangers owner and United States President] George Bush were the only ones," Selig once said with a big smile. "Now even you two have come over to the right side."

Uncle.

This season is the perfect example of what the Wild Card can do for the game of baseball. It can create a reason for even more fans to be on the edge of their seats in September.

Schools are in session. The NFL, college football and high school football are into their regular-season schedules. And oftentimes over the years, baseball would be on the back burner in some cities because the local team's postseason hopes were over.

Under the old system, this year would be a prime example.

Must C: Astros clinch AL West

With two weeks left in the season, three of the six division races have been decided. The Astros clinched the AL West on Saturday, a day after the Indians clinched the AL Central. Last week, the Nationals wrapped up the NL East. Meanwhile, the Dodgers have a 9 1/2-game lead on the D-backs in the NL West with Arizona having only 12 games remaining on its schedule.

That leaves only two divisions with any type of drama in the next two weeks -- the AL East, where the Red Sox lead the Yankees by three, and the NL Central, where the Cubs are four games up on the Brewers and six in front of the Cardinals. Those five teams all have 13 games remaining.

Enter the Wild Card, which was expanded from one team in each league to two teams in 2012. As of Monday morning, 21 of the 30 big league teams still had at least a faint hope of making it to the postseason -- 13 of the 15 in the AL, and eight of 15 in the NL.

Wild Card standings

Now, some of those teams are on the edge of elimination from playoff contention. The Marlins are one loss of their own or a win by the Rockies away from being knocked out of the NL Wild Card mix. But the D-backs and Rockies -- who currently hold down the top two spots NL Wild Card spots -- Brewers and Cardinals (or Cubs if they get caught in the NL Central) are still very much NL Wild Card possibilities.

And the A's are two losses of their own or two wins by the Twins, or one of each for each team, away from being knocked out in the Junior Circuit, but there are six teams within five games of the AL Wild Card spots -- the Yankees and Twins, who are holding down the top two spots, and the Angels (two games back), Mariners (4 1/2) and Royals and Rangers (five games each). The Orioles and Rays are both 5 1/2 out, and the Blue Jays are 8 1/2 games behind Minnesota.

And here is what really underscores the opportunity provided by a late-season rampage, thanks to the Wild Card: 12 times in the 22 postseasons that have been played since the Wild Card was introduced, a non-division winner has advanced to the World Series, and six times a Wild Card club has claimed the World Series championship.

In that same stretch, the team with the best record in baseball that season has made it to the World Series only 10 times and won only five.

And what does postseason hope mean to a team in terms of attendance?

The Rockies average an announced attendance of 40,708 for the three-game series against the Padres this past weekend. Colorado hosted San Diego in three-game series each of the two previous seasons on the same September weekend, but the average attendance was 30,329 in 2016 and 28,335 in '15.

Rockies combine for shutout

The difference? Simple.The Rockies are currently holding down the second Wild Card spot in the NL, even though they are eliminated from the NL West race and trailing the Dodgers by 14 1/2 games.

A year ago, Colorado was 13 games out of first, and eight games back in the Wild Card. And two years ago, the Rockies went into the Padres series eliminated in both the NL West and the Wild Card.

The Wild Card has given fans hope, and given teams an ability to market their product in September.

Selig knew best.

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