Major League Baseball’s playoff format has included wild card teams since 2012 when they expanded the number of spots in the postseason. Over the years the number of wild card teams has changed, but currently there are two wild card teams from each league that qualify for the MLB playoffs each season.

To understand how the wild card teams fit into the current playoff structure, it’s helpful to first review the overall playoff format. MLB is split into the American League and National League, each with 15 teams. During the regular season from April through September, the teams compete within their league to earn one of three postseason berths. Those three spots are awarded to the division winners from each of the three divisions – East, Central, and West.

Prior to 2012, only the three division winners from each league made the playoffs, regardless of overall record. This meant it was possible for a team to have a better record than a division winner yet miss the postseason entirely. To address this issue and expand the playoffs, baseball added two wild card teams per league beginning in 2012.


With the addition of the wild cards, the total number of playoff teams grew from 6 to 8, with 4 from each league. The wild card round was also introduced as a best-of-five series played between the two wild card teams immediately preceding the division series. This wild card round determines which wild card team advances to then face one of the three division winners in the division series round.

In 2012 and 2013 there were just two wild card teams – one from each league. They played a one-game playoff to determine who would move on to the division series. There was criticism that a team’s entire season could come down to a single game. To address this, MLB expanded the wild card format again for the 2014 season onward.

Beginning in 2014, the playoffs were restructured to include a best-of-five wild card series between the top two wild card teams instead of a one-game playoff. This gave the two wild card clubs a better chance to prove themselves over multiple games rather than risking elimination in a single contest. It also created more excitement and tension with a mini-series prior to the division series round.


Under the current MLB playoff format that has been in place since 2014, each league’s wild card teams are the two clubs with the next best regular season records among teams that did not win their division. Just like the three division winners, the two wild card teams in each league receive an automatic berth in the postseason.

To determine home-field advantage in the wild card series, the wild card team with the superior head-to-head record against the other wildcard club during the regular season gets to host the first two games of the series. If they did not play an even number of home games against each other, then home-field is awarded to the team with the higher winning percentage in intradivision games.

The wild card series is a best-of-five format, so the first club to win three games advances. The winner then moves on to face one of the three division winners in the best-of-five division series round. From there, the league championship series and World Series follow in their standard best-of-seven formats to decide the MLB champion.


In total, Major League Baseball’s current playoff structure consists of 10 teams – two wild card clubs from each league, plus the three division winners. The wild cards give more franchises a shot at playoff baseball andcreates an initial high-stakes showdown between two teams just making it into the postseason. It has led to greater fan interest and more compelling early round matchups since being implemented.

While the number andformat of wild cardshas changedover the years asMLBhas tweaked the playoffsystem, the current setup of two wild cardsteams per league appears to be a successful way to fairlyand excitement reward moredeserving teams beyondjust the three divisionwinners.Baseball’s October tournaments are richer and more dynamic as a resultof including these wild cardentries inthe MLB postseason mix.Going forward,two wild cardclubs from each league is likely toremain a staplepart of baseball’s playoff structure.

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