MLB wild card explained

Brandon Crawford 2014 Wild Card
The MLB Wild Card format has proved some epic drama over the years. Photo from USA Today.

If you’re new in the world of baseball then you might need to have the MLB wild card explained. Don’t worry, you won’t be the first to be confused about this unique format.

MLB Wild Card explained

The MLB wildcard race is one of the things everybody seems to be talking about throughout the whole season. But, what exactly is the wild card? How does that work? And why is it such a big deal to avoid the wild card if you want to make the playoffs?

If you’ve wondered these things, then worry no more, as we’re going to have the MLB playoffs explained in the following paragraphs.

How does the wild card work in MLB?

Major League Baseball established the Wild Card game back in 2012. Simply put, it’s a play-in game that gives two teams a chance to make it to the Divisional Series. Two wild card teams from the American League and National League face off in a winner-takes-all game that marks the start of the postseason.

Wild card teams are basically divisional runner-ups, the two teams with the best record in each league that didn’t win their division. That’s why contending teams often try to avoid falling to the Wild Card spot and look to clinch their division, as anything can happen in a one-game scenario.

What happens if three teams are tied for the MLB Wild Card?

Only two teams per league can qualify as wild card teams. So, Major League Baseball has established a series of tiebreakers in the case there’s a three-way tie between teams with the same record, which go as follows:

(Via MLB)

  • The team with the better head-to-head winning percentage during the regular season.
  • The team with the best overall record in intradivision games.*
  • The team with the best overall record in intraleague games.
  • The team with the best record in the final 81 games of the season, ignoring interleague play.
  • The team with the best record in the final 82 games of the season (provided the game added is not between the tied teams), continue one game back until the tie is broken (Interleague games are skipped and ignored in this process.)

Can two MLB Wildcards come from the same division? 

As we mentioned before, winning the division is a big deal as it helps the team avoid being a wild card team. From that on, any team from each league can make the playoffs.


That means that teams from the same division could be wild card teams and that the club with the second-best record in the division could not even make the divisional series.

Take the 2021 MLB wildcard race for example. At the time of writing, the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox are the two wild card teams in the American League, both of them from the AL East division. Also, the Toronto Blue Jays continue on the hunt, and they’re divisional foes as well.

Should MLB change the Wild Card format?

Truth be told, it seems like this format has worked thus far. While the MLB wildcard race could be unfair and sometimes the better team is knocked off the postseason, that’s just a part of the game.

Maybe, they could change it to become a best-of-3 series rather than a single game.

Of course, that would also be counterproductive for wild card teams, as they’d have to put their pitchers through even more work right before the Divisional Series. Major League Baseball continues to look for ways of making the game more appealing to younger fans, so nothing is set in stone. But for now, it seems like the wild card format isn’t going anywhere.

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