In the beginning, God created man. And man created baseball. And man created a pennant to declare the winner of each season.
And man was not satisfied. So some man spun off another league, and called it the American League. And there was strife between the National League and the American League who was the best. So, man created the World Series. And all was well.
From the book of 2 Baseball 1:1-4
Well, that’s the basics of how our playoff system came out. In case you’re wondering, the book of 1 Baseball talks about the rules and how the game came into play, at least in my bible. The book of 2 Baseball covers up to the 80′s, so the Selig era seems to be missing. So let me cover the brief history of how baseball changed its playoff structure:
Starting in 1903, the World Series is formed between the NL and the AL. (Exceptions are 1904, and 1994). At this time, the winner of each league faces each other to determine the WS winner. In 1969, each league expands enough to have 2 divisions. There you have a league championship to determine the winner… also known as the pennant. The winner then is eligible for the World Series. 1981 was an anomaly year using a Divisional series. But the modern day divisional series started in 1995* when each league split into 3 divisions. In order to have an even number of teams play, the wild card was introduced. This would be the best team on each league who was not a division champion. Suddenly, games got more interesting. Then, Bud Selig rushed and added another wild card team this year. The winner of the 1 game wild card winner faces the best team in the league in the division series.
My take on all of this? I think (normally), the 2nd wild card was not needed. Now this second wild card would be in cases like 2007 when the Padres and Rockies were tied and had to play a play-in game. But that play-in game counted a regular season game!! Sorry, I also believe that 162 games is regular season, and any play-in games do not count for the record books. (This affects batting title, for example). In historical times, only having the best two teams win reminded me a lot like seeing the current wild card list: if you’re not at the top, then you have nothing to play for.
Now, having a season end like 2011 did takes a lot of luck by all the teams partaking. But I just looked at the standings, and found a disappointment at the time of this writing. The NL is all but locked up. All 5 players are just about decided. Only Washington hasn’t clenched the division yet (4 games over Atlanta, who holds the 1st Wild card lead by 6.5 over the Cardinals), and St. Louis has a 3.5 game lead over the Dodgers for the 2nd wild card. If there were only 1 wild card team, then it would be worse, St. Louis has no chance (and all teams chasing the Cardinals) have no shot at all.
Yet in the AL, nothing is decided yet. Every race is still fairly close enough. It may be worth watching till the very last day. And it looks like even if there wasn’t a 2nd wild card, the races are still competitive from those left playing.
While I’m not too pleased with the extra team, and possibly diluting the postseason, at least it’s not like the NHL or NBA where the top 8 of each conference make it, and extend playoffs for 2 months. However, the 1 game wild card playoff doesn’t fit in well with a best of 7 series the rest of the rounds use.
Either way, I’ll looking forward to the postseason, even if my Rockies were eliminated ages ago.
Thanks to @gorox1983 for contribution
* Technically, this happened in 1994, but the strike wiped out the rest of the season and the World Series. So 1995 was the first year of this system.
Source: Baseball almanac