NEW YORK – In November of 2011, shortly after the St. Louis Cardinals became the fifth wild-card winner in 17 seasons to go on to win the World Series, Major League Baseball added an additional wild card spot to each league to better incentivize teams’ winning their divisions.
It works: Because winning the wild-card game, like all baseball games between two similarly good teams, is more or less a 50/50 proposition, wild-card teams are now half as likely to go on to take the championship.
But randomness pervades baseball. On average, nearly one NBA team per year wins at least 75% of its games. A handful of NFL teams do it every year. It’s a bit less common in hockey, but it happens.
Since the end of MLB’s Deadball Era in 1920, only six teams have won more than 70% of their regular-season contests, and none has finished a season with a winning percentage better than the 1954 Cleveland Indians’ .721 mark. The myriad quirks and particulars that make baseball so awesome also make it nearly impossible to dominate outright: During the regular season, bad teams beat good ones all the time, and no one really thinks twice about it. It’s why attempting to predict the MLB postseason amounts to little more than a guessing game, and why – in a fact frequently cited here – it would require a best-of-269 game series to determine with statistical significance which of two good baseball teams is actually the better one.
The Colorado Rockies (Ron Chenoy/USA TODAY Sports)
And so teams that win the annual wild-card game, despite typically using a top starter for the play-in contest and despite usually facing clubs with better records and despite almost never owning home-field advantage for a postseason series, begin LDS play on more or less equal footing to the six division winners.
It bears out over the sport’s short history since the format adjustment: Since 2012, teams that win the wild-card game are 5-5 in divisional series. They’re 2-3 in LCS play, and 1-1 in the World Series. There is, of course, some slight advantage to being a better team, and some advantage to having your best starter ready for Game 1, and some advantage to playing one more home game than your opponent in a series – all perks that come with winning the division. But those advantages, in the grand scheme of baseball weirdness, are so minuscule that – again – the clubs with the best records in their leagues have lost first-round series to wild-card teams exactly half the time.
All of which is a long-winded way of saying that the winner of Tuesday’s AL Wild Card game and Wednesday’s NL Wild Card game will enter the proper playoffs with just as good a chance to wind up champions as any other team involved.
Read or Share this story: http://ftw.usatoday.com/2017/10/mlb-wild-card-game-no-disadvantage-alds-nlds-yankees-twins-rockies-diamondbacks