The Evolution of the MLB Postseason, Sometimes Called “Play Offs”


Today all series after finishing the regular season are called the postseason, including the World Series. This is its story. Since the majors began to expand, the commissioner considered the possibility of creating elimination series to search for the two teams that would go to the World Series. For years, combined winners of the American League and National League went straight to the great fall classic, in most cases with comfort, but on several occasions they had to fight until the last day, or occasionally ‘play offs’ were held. That is, extra games within the same season since statistics were valid for the regular season. Hence the term ‘play off’ is different from ‘playoffs,’ but today it is used interchangeably. Curiously, in the American League the playoff only had one game, but in the National League there were three. You remember the famous playoff between the Brooklyn Dodgers and New York Giants in 1951, won by the Giants in three games with the famous Bobby Thomson three-run homer that “was the shot heard around the world.” Meanwhile in the American League in 1978, the New York Yankees beat the Red Sox in the playoff  game with a homer from Bucky Dent, also a three-run homer.

The last World Series played without a playoff was the 1968 postseason, won by the Detroit Tigers against the St. Louis Cardinals in seven games. The following year the MLB again expanded to enter four teams, two from each league. In the American League: the Kansas City Royals and Seattle Pilots (now the Milwaukee Brewers). In the National League: the San Diego Padres and Montreal Expos. When extended to 12 teams per league, the MLB decided to split them into East and West divisions with six teams from each side and in each league. This benefited several teams, including the New York Mets, whose franchise was founded in 1962, when they won their division and later defeated the Atlanta Braves to be the National League champions. In the American League the Baltimore Orioles won. That first World Series with the new format, prior to the fall classic, had the Mets arrive to beat the favored Orioles in five games.

At the beginning of these championship series it was the best of five games. Then in 1985 it rose to the best of seven. In 1977 there was a further expansion in the major leagues, this time only made to the American League to welcome two new members in the Toronto Blue Jays and Seattle Mariners. The National League also expanded in 1993 by adding the Florida Marlins (now Miami) and Colorado Rockies. In fact, in 1994 the league was divided into three divisions: East, Central and West, this was done in order to create the division series, for that they needed a fourth team, a ‘wild card.’ That is, the team that ended with the second best record. The wild card played against the team that had finished with the best record among all the winners of the divisions, except the ones that fell in the same division. To occur like this, they then would play against the team with the second best record. Everything was scheduled to begin in this new format, but with some bad luck that came in early August also came the disastrous strike of players. The union and owners went to the negotiating table but failed to reach an agreement. The standoff ended with the rest of the season, in the end the MLB was forced to cancel the World Series.

In 1995, the season did not start on its usual date, but thanks to a decision by a federal judge, Sonia Sotomayor, who gave a warrant for players to reintegrate to work, the season started in late April. Sotomayor told the team owners to negotiate in good faith without the threat to want to eliminate arbitration and free agency. Under these conditions the majors began with only a two week delay. At the end of the regular season, playoff games officially expanded to play the division series. These teams were champions of their divisions in the American League: the Baltimore Orioles, Cleveland Indians, Seattle Mariners and the New York Yankees as the wildcard. In the National League were the Atlanta Braves, Cincinnati Reds, Los Angeles Dodgers and the Colorado Rockies won the wild card.

The first ALDS played was the best of five games. In each league there were two series and two champions. The best of seven championship series are then played. The American League champions were the Cleveland Indians and the champions in the National League were the Atlanta Braves. In the end, the 1995 World Series was won by the Atlanta Braves in six games.

The ALDS created a great attraction, especially the wild card, as several teams from each of the divisions had the chance to qualify. In doing so, they choose the same option as the winners of their respective divisions. In 1997 the Florida Marlins entered as the wild card and finally won the World Series in seven games by defeating the Cleveland Indians. In total there have been six teams lucky enough to sneak into the wild card and attain the biggest trophy in baseball, the World Series. Here we list all of the winners from the past:

1997 – Florida Marlins (NL Wildcard)

2002 – Anaheim Angels (AL Wildcard)

2003 – Florida Marlins (NL Wildcard)

2004 – Boston Red Sox (AL Wildcard)

2011 – St. Louis Cardinals (NL Wildcard)

2014 – San Francisco Giants (NL Wildcard)

As the latest innovation, commissioner Bud Selig gave an opportunity to a fifth team to participate in the playoffs for each league in 2012. That is a competition created by the wild card. Teams finishing with the fourth and fifth best record in wins compete in a one game series for the right to enter as the fourth team in the division series. This makes everything interesting because nobody wants to finish fourth, but win their division and avoid competing with the fifth team, taking the risk of being eliminated. All for the love of competition!

Translated by Parker Asmann