What is a Wild Card in Baseball (MLB) – Explained

A. Coatess

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A. Coatess



Sean Hunter

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what is a wild card in baseball

Once a loser is not always a loser. A redemption period can surely happen! And this is precisely what a wild card is in most sports. Here, let us talk about what is a wild card in baseball.

A wild card refers to a team who are included in the next playoffs even if they have not won their divisions. For baseball, it is stipulated in the rules that a total of two teams, one from the American League and one from the National League, can be a wild card per season.

Wild Card: What Does It Mean?


To help you get an idea of what a wild card mean in baseball, think of it like some underdog teams that made their way to the big games. In baseball, a wild card is a standing awarded to a baseball team or an individual that has failed to qualify conventionally.

Meaning, these are the teams that did not win their respective subdivisions. But, these teams still qualify for claiming a different spot in the season.

Based on the MLB wild card rules, these teams need to get through another round of games or to have most of their games in the postseason away from their home turf.

Because of the nature of wild card games in baseball, it is often dubbed the Best Second-Place Team. This best second place can also mean that two baseball teams from the same division can grab the wild card opportunity.

As followed by the MLB, only two teams can qualify for the wild card position. In cases where three teams are qualified, a tie-breaker will be imposed to ensure that only two teams will get the wild card.

How Does MLB Utilize the Wild Card?

So, how does the wild card work in MLB?

Before a wild card team can compete, they should have a wild card game, or a play-in game, where two teams have the chance to move forward and play in the Divisional Series.

Because of the set-up of the games, the wild card teams in MLB are essentially runner-ups as they did not bag a win from their respective divisions.

The wild card spot is not necessarily the most anticipated slot in the games. In fact, baseball teams try their best to avoid the wild card standings because they would only have one more shot at this game. And, a one-game scene like this can really tip them off if they are not careful.

With some of the details of the wild card MLB explained, you should avoid confusing it with the playoffs in each division. The wild card playoffs and their format are very different from the division play like the American Football League, National Basketball Association, and National Hockey League.

The primary difference is in the number of qualifying teams. The number of teams that may qualify per division is not set when a wild-card playoff structure is employed.

When Did Wild Card Start in Baseball?


The Major League Baseball wild card has been around for quite a long time already. The format of the wild card games in baseball has been around the MLB for as early as 1994, when it was introduced.

During 1994, only one wild card team was allowed per league. But, as years and seasons go by, changes include changing the number of wild card teams to two as they face each other in a play-in game.

Today, the wild card format remains pretty similar. There would be two wild card teams that face each other in a play-in game. And the champions would move forward to play in the Divisional Series.

Anomalies in Baseball Wild Card

Of course, rules are not always as stringent as expected. The implementation of baseball wild cards has not been as uniform as predicted.

For instance, season 1981 had a bit of a problem implementing the wild card rule. The middle third of the season was wiped out, so the organizer decided to have the winners of the season’s half have a playoff.

This was intended to be the wild card games, but since there were different winners for the first and second halves of the games, the playoffs failed to execute their purpose.

Also, due to the coronavirus pandemic, the playoffs were extended to the second-placers instead of the first. So, the wild card series became a best-of-three for the eight competing teams.

The Present and Future of Baseball Wild Card

Despite these minor anomalies, baseball wild card’s current implementation is effective and serves its purpose. And, given that the rules on wild card eligibility and tie breakers are well stipulated, there would be no major reason for changing the future of how MLB pulls off their wild card playoffs.


Wild cards sure differ per sport, but this article showed you what is a wild card in baseball!

Baseball is all about having just two competing teams going neck and neck for that one final playoff to get the wild card title.

Still, everything that happens in baseball is part of the game, and as players or spectators, it is up to us to make the most out of every tournament!

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