How a second wild card would have altered Mariners baseball history
The Mariners could have doubled their postseason appearances if baseball had added another wild card in each league back in 1995. And, then, who knows?
Seattle Times baseball reporter
Mariners history would have had a markedly different tenor if the expanded playoff system likely to be instituted next year had been in effect previously.
Try as many as four additional postseason trips, potentially doubling the Mariners' playoff exposure. I use qualifiers because there were some ties involved. But the M's would have been in line to make the playoffs as the second wild-card team in 1996, 2002, 2003 and 2007.
Add that to Seattle's actual postseason appearances in 1995, 1997, 2000 and 2001, and it gives long-suffering Mariners fans who haven't been to the playoffs in a decade a little reason to smile. Or else to wince at all the playoff excitement that never had a chance to take place.
Just imagine how that could have changed Mariners history. Perhaps one of those teams would have caught fire and given the M's that elusive World Series appearance. Perhaps Lou Piniella or Pat Gillick would have been enticed to stay in Seattle if the Mariners had made the playoffs in 2002. Or if not, perhaps Piniella's replacement, Bob Melvin, wouldn't have been fired after two years if his initial season in 2003 had resulted in a playoff berth. And what would have been the ramifications for John McLaren if the M's had sneaked into the playoffs in 2007, after he took over when Mike Hargrove resigned on July 2?
Under the proposed plan, there will be an extra wild-card team in each league. The two wild-card winners will play each other (in either a winner-take-all game, or best-of-three series, according to reports), and the winner will play one of the division winners, presumably the one with the best record. The other two division winners would play to get into the League Championship Series. The postseason will proceed from that point as it has previously.
In 1996, the Mariners played just 161 games, because a rainout in Cleveland on Sept. 7 and rescheduled for Sept. 30 was never played. The Rangers won the American League West that year with a 90-72 record, while the Orioles were the wild card at 88-74. The Mariners finished 85-76 (.528), with the White Sox and Red Sox at 85-77 (.525).
Under the new format, the Mariners would have flown to Cleveland after the season to make up the game with the Indians. If they won, they would have been in the postseason as the second wild card. If they lost, baseball would have had its first three-way tie, and who knows what method they would have used to settle it? But it would have been exciting.
In 2002 — a year after they won 116 games to run away with the AL West — the M's went 93-69. That put them well behind the A's (103-59) in the AL West, and also out of contention for the wild card, which went to the eventual World Series champion Angels (99-63). But if there had been a second wild card, the Mariners would have tied with the Red Sox, who also went 93-69. Wouldn't that one-game playoff have been fun? If the Mariners had won, three of four teams in the AL West would have made the playoffs.
The following season, 2003, would have given the Mariners clean entry into the postseason. Melvin replaced Piniella that year and put up the same 93-69 record. Oakland again won the division at 96-66, while the Red Sox won the wild card at 95-67. The Mariners would have handily won the second wild card over the Blue Jays and White Sox (both 86-76).
The 2007 season would have resulted in another one-game playoff for the Mariners, who despite losing 13 of 14 from Aug. 25 to Sept. 8, finished 88-74, the same record as the Tigers. The Angels won the AL West at 94-68 while the Yankees took the wild card, also at 94-68.
The Mariners, however, would have had the excitement of their most compelling playoff race diminished under the proposed new format. In 1995, as we all remember, the Mariners and Angels went down to the wire for the AL West title, finishing tied at 78-66. They played an epic one-game playoff at the Kingdome, which the Mariners won 9-1, aided by the legendary "Everybody scores!" bases-clearing hit of Luis Sojo.
But if there had been two wild-card teams, both would have been in the postseason, one as division champion, the other as the second wild card behind the Yankees (who finished 79-65).
You can look at all kinds of revisionist history if this format had been in place in past years. Could the baseball spirit have been rekindled in Montreal if the Expos had made the playoffs in 1996 for just the second time in franchise history? The Blue Jays wouldn't be working on an 18-year playoff drought if they had sneaked in as the second wild card in 1998 — only 13 years. The Barry Bonds-Giants would have had as many as three more cracks at the postseason.
You can't go back and change the past. But part of the great appeal of baseball is looking back periodically and pondering how different things could have been.
|Mariners in the playoffs?|
|The Mariners could have doubled their postseason appearances if baseball had added another wild card in each league in 1995.|
|Year||Wild card||Extra wild card|
|1995||Yankees 79-65 (.549)||Angels or Mariners 78-66 (.481)|
|1996||Orioles 88-74 (.543)||Mariners 85-76* (.528), White Sox 85-77 (.525) or Red Sox 85-77 (.525)|
|2000||Mariners 91-71 (.562)||Indians 90-72 (.556)|
|2002||Angels 99-63 (.611)||Red Sox or Mariners, 93-69 (.574)|
|2003||Red Sox 95-67 (.586)||Mariners 93-69 (.574)|
|2007||Yankees 94-68 (.580)||Tigers or Mariners, 88-74 (.543)|
|Note: The 1996 Mariners had a rainout they didn't make up because it didn't impact the standings. But if there had been expanded playoffs, they would have had to make up the game. If they won, they would have been the second wild-card team. However, if they lost, it would have created a three-way tie with the White Sox and Red Sox for the second wild-card, wreaking havoc with the postseason.|
About Larry Stone
Larry Stone gives an inside look at the national baseball scene every Sunday. Look for his weekly power rankings during the season.
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