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Tuesday, April 26, 2011
Updated: April 27, 11:04 AM ET
Breaking down the second wild cards


In Tuesday's Rumblings and Grumblings, I zigzagged through all sorts of subtle ripple effects baseball would feel if it expands the playoffs next year. But now it's time for some cold hard facts -- with or without a cold beverage.

I went back through the wild-card era (1995-2010) to reconstruct how life would have been different had there been two wild cards per league in all those years. Here's what I found:

• Nineteen of the 30 teams would have benefited from this expansion by making the playoffs as the second wild card at least once. Wouldn't have helped the Royals or Pirates, in other words. But the effects would have been felt across all six divisions.

Tim Lincecum might want to reconsider his rants on this idea when he learns that no team would have qualified as wild card No. 2 more times than the Giants (four). And the Mariners would have qualified outright once and tied for the final spot in three other years.

• Under the current system, 19 teams have won 89 games or more in the wild-card era and still missed the playoffs. If there had been a second wild card, just four teams with that many wins would have gone home. Anything unfair about that?

• For those fearful the second wild card would mostly be some crummy team that didn't deserve a spot in the Octoberfest, history says otherwise. Because the 1995 season was strike-shortened, I started that look with 1996 -- and found that those 30 second-wild-card entries would have averaged 89 wins, and 11 would have been teams that won 90-plus. Meanwhile, only one of 30 second wild cards over the past 15 full seasons would have been a team that won fewer than 85 games (the '97 Angels, who won 84).

• As the New York Post's Joel Sherman pointed out in this thoughtful piece, six of the past seven AL wild cards would have been teams that won at least five more games than the second wild card. And that's alarming. But it's a stretch to think that's always going to be the case. In the NL, in fact, there would have been just a one-game gap in five of the past seven years. And only once would there ever have been more than a four-win separation between the NL wild cards.

• You want more teams in the pennant races every year? This would do it. Most years, adding a wild card would elevate three to five extra teams into contention in September. Since 2000, we counted 35 teams that would have finished within four games of the second wild-card spot in the standings, but otherwise wouldn't have been in a race that late.

• The NL West (nine teams) and AL West (seven) would have locked up the most second-wild-card spots. The NL Central (three) and AL East (four) would have wound up with the fewest.

• And the Rays, Blue Jays and Orioles will be relieved to hear that seven different times, three teams from the same division would have made the playoffs -- three times from the AL East, three from the NL West and once from the AL Central.

• Finally, the good news is that nearly every year, that race for the second wild card would have given us one more reason to pay attention. Three of those races would have wound up in a tie. Nine of those teams would have won their playoff spot by exactly one game. And four more would have won by two games. Of the 32 races for the second wild card since 1995, 23 would have been decided by three games or fewer. Which is just what baseball has in mind.

So what about this idea sounds so troubling? Very little of it, from this perch in the blogosphere.