I didn’t see this mentioned anywhere else, but 2014 was the 20th year of the MLB wild card format in the postseason.
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From the time I was a kid in the 1970s, up until the players’ strike of 1994, teams had to win their division to get to the playoffs. But after the 1994 World Series was cancelled and baseball returned for the 1995 season, a wild card team was added, similar to the structure the NFL already was using. No longer would a team win over 100 games and still miss the playoffs, as happened to the 1993 San Francisco Giants.
This development — together with the realignment of each league into three divisions — revolutionized the postseason to the point where two teams who played well in the regular season, but did not win their division’s title, could still face off against each other in the World Series, as happened when the Giants and the Royals went to seven games this year.
With 20 pennant winners from each league, and 20 sets of World Series outcomes, a few interesting trends emerged. You might think that, all things being equal, every team has made at least one World Series appearance by now. But, as we know, all things in baseball are not equal, and 11 teams have yet to appear in the World Series in the wild card era. At least one team from each of baseball’s six divisions is still waiting to make its Series debut, with an astounding four teams (of the five current members) of the NL Central still on the outside looking in: Milwaukee Brewers, Pittsburgh Pirates, Cincinnati Reds and Chicago Cubs. The St. Louis Cardinals have carried the division’s banner in the postseason, and the Houston Astros did make on appearance in 2005, before moving over to the American League in 2013.
Again, if things were equal in the majors, each division would have at least six World Series appearances by now, and not any more than seven. But the reality is much, much different. The AL East leads the way with 11 appearances in the World Series. This means that to reach parity with the other two AL divisions, the East would have to miss the World Series for the next 13 years, and that just isn’t going to happen.
After the AL East, which division comes next in most pennants during the wild card era? If you said the NL East, you know your baseball. The East has eight World Series appearances, and the NL West follows behind closely with seven appearances in the Fall Classic.
The AL Central has six pennants in 20 years, which is about what could be expected with an equal distribution across all three divisions. The NL Central is slightly underrepresented with five appearances (if Houston’s is counted in the total), and the AL West has severely underachieved, with just three pennants to date. The AL East’s dominance comes at someone else’s expense, and in this case, it’s the Mariners, A’s and the rest of their division.
It’s also worth looking at the World Series records of each division. The AL East, again, leads the way with an 8-3 record. Not only does this division get there more than anyone else, they also win more than they lose. The only other division with a winning record is the NL West, which sits at 4-3 after the Giants’ win over Kansas City this year. The NL East is at the break-even point of 4-4 in the Series, meaning that the other three divisions are below .500. The NL Central (at 2-3) and AL West (at 1-2) are not very far under .500, while the AL Central is the worst-performing division at 1-5 in World Series play.
In his farewell speech to White Sox fans on the final Saturday of the regular season, Paul Konerko acknowledged the Kansas City Royals — the White Sox’ opponents that day — and encouraged them to “represent the Central” in the postseason. And that they did, coming within one big hit of forcing the Giants into extra innings in game seven. But as impressive as their postseason run was, they did what AL Central teams have mostly done since the first wild card World Series in 1995: they lost. We’ll have to wait and see if the division’s fortunes can improve in the years ahead. At least for now, the AL East is the Beast, and the AL Central (or perhaps the AL West) is the least.
Pennant winners by division (1995-2014)
* Indicates World Series Champion
AL East (11)
1996 Yankees*, 1998 Yankees*, 1999 Yankees*, 2000 Yankees*, 2001 Yankees, 2003 Yankees, 2004 Red Sox*, 2007 Red Sox*, 2008 Devil Rays, 2009 Yankees*, 2013 Red Sox*
AL Central (6)
1995 Indians, 1997 Indians, 2005 White Sox*, 2006 Tigers, 2012 Tigers, 2014 Royals
AL West (3)
2002 Angels*, 2010 Rangers, 2011 Rangers
NL East (8)
1995 Braves*, 1996 Braves, 1997 Marlins*, 1999 Braves, 2000 Mets, 2003 Marlins*, 2008 Phillies*, 2009 Phillies
NL Central (5)
2004 Cardinals, 2005 Astros, 2006 Cardinals*, 2011 Cardinals*, 2013 Cardinals
NL West (7)
1998 Padres, 2001 Diamondbacks*, 2002 Giants, 2007 Rockies, 2010 Giants*, 2012 Giants*, 2014 Giants*