It might seem a bit unfair that the winner of the wild card game always has to play the best team in the league in the division series, especially if the wild card team ends up losing. That’s what happened earlier this week to the Diamondbacks and four years ago to the Pirates. But wild card teams frequently make it past the division series, and some even win the World Series. The past few years are a mixed bag for both the National and American Leagues.
2017: The D-backs lost the NLDS to the Dodgers, the best team in baseball. But the Yankees beat the Indians, the best AL team. The Yanks are currently two games behind the Astros, but it’s a best-of-7 series and they could make a comeback.
2016: The Giants lost the NLDS and their Even Year Magic to the Cubs, who won the World Series. The Blue Jays beat the Rangers in an ALDS rematch from the previous year, which they had also won and gone on to lose the ALCS.
2015: The current ALCS is a rematch of the 2015 Wild Card, which the Astros won, but they lost the ALDS that year to the Blue Jays. As for the NL, that’s still a sore spot — the Cubs beat the Pirates. They also beat the Cardinals in the NLDS, and I wasn’t sure if I should be happy about that or not, but I loved seeing the Mets sweep the Cubs in the championship series.
2014: Another Pirates WC loss, this time to the Giants and that Even Year Magic. The World Series between the Giants and the Royals that year (above) was only the second time ever that both league champions were wild cards. The first time was 2002 between the Angels and (guess what) the Giants.
2013: Hey, look, the Pirates won a wild card game! And then they immediately got swept by the Cards (who would lose the Series to the Red Sox). This is the only season in the past five years when both wild cards lost the division series. I had to look it up to remember the AL team was the Rays because I didn’t remember them being good so recently.
So sometimes playing the best team in the league works out for a wild card team, and sometimes it doesn’t. I wondered if it was an unfair rule, but it’s actually completely fair. I know I’ve said this before, but baseball can be unpredictable. That’s part of why I love it. Sometimes wild card games have wild outcomes: the Royals went to extra innings against the Athletics in a comeback win in 2014, and the Jays did the same against the Orioles last year.
I didn’t realize until recently that the NFL has the same wild card rule. There are two wild card games per conference, but the winners play the two best teams. The Steelers have won AFC wild card games the past two years. Last year they went on to beat Kansas City, and I watched that game in a room full of Chiefs fans. During the 2015-16 season, they lost their next game to the Super Bowl-bound Broncos. The three other wild card winners also lost in the next round that year.
Maybe sometimes it’s not fair, but hey, sports can be like that.