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Saturday, March 3, 2012
Boiling down MLB's playoff expansion


Since the inception of the World Series in 1903, there have been three changes to the number of teams qualifying for postseason play: in 1969 with the addition of divisions; in 1994 with the change to three divisions plus the Wild Card; and in 2012 with the inclusion of a second Wild Card in each league.

In the previous system, 26 percent of MLB’s 30 teams made the playoffs each season. The new system raises that number to 33, much closer to the other major North American sports (though MLB still has the lowest percentage of the four).

WILD CARD’S IMPACT
Forcing Wild Card teams into a one-game playoff before joining the division winners in series play places more emphasis on winning the division. It’s a move possibly motivated by the success Wild Cards have had in the past.

In its 17-season existence, five Wild Card teams won the World Series (1997 Florida Marlins, 2002 Anaheim Angels, 2003 Marlins, 2004 Boston Red Sox and 2011 St. Louis Cardinals) and five others won a pennant.

The addition of another spot would seem particularly good news for National League teams.

During the Wild Card era, there have been 14 teams to finish outside the playoffs despite having a better record than one of the division winners in its league. Twelve of those teams were from the National League.

MORE DRAMA?
So exactly how many more teams will be “in the race” down the stretch with another Wild Card team added to the postseason?

Using the admittedly arbitrary premise that any team finishing within five games of a playoff spot could be considered to have been in the race, we found the following:

• In the NL, every season but 2000 saw at least one team within five games of the Wild Card winner. But during that same time, there were 33 teams to finish within five games of the 5th-place team -- or the team that would be the “other” Wild Card.

• In the AL, there hasn’t been a 5th-place team to finish within five games of the Wild Card winner in 10 of the 17 Wild Card seasons. But, in that same span, there have been 27 teams to finish within five games of the 5th-place team -- or the “other” Wild Card.

Using the aforementioned premise, there were about 2.4 teams per season to finish out of the playoffs, but in the race.

In that same period, under the new playoff format, that number would rise to 3.5 teams finishing out of the playoffs, but in the race -- a little more than one extra contending team per season, but not including the extra two playoff teams.