Baseball fans received the second wild card with mixed results. On one hand, it generates a lot of excitement, as the best MLB teams get another avenue into the postseason. Talented teams get a second chance. But then there are teams like the 2015 Pittsburgh Pirates, who were 98-64 and had the second-best record in the game. However, they were only able to compete in one playoff game because they were in the best division in baseball. They lost to a 97-win Chicago Cubs team in the National League wild-card game.
Overall, there are more pros than cons to having additional teams in contention late in the season. These are the best MLB teams from the last 25 years that sat on the sidelines in October.
1. Chicago White Sox (2006)
The 2006 White Sox came off a 99-win season the year before, winning the World Series with a major playoff run. (They had an 11-1 record against the Boston Red Sox, Los Angeles Angels, and Houston Astros.) Chicago added slugging DH Jim Thome to a core that featured Jermaine Dye, Paul Konerko, Joe Crede, and A.J. Pierzynski. But 2005’s dominating starting pitching was gone, as the Sox finished with the 10th best staff ERA in the AL.
The Sox got off to a strong start, building a small division lead in May before the Minnesota Twins knocked them out of first place. They hung around until a July slump pushed them back 10 games. But even then, they were 65-45 on the season. Chicago got as close as three games back of first place by mid-September, but never closed the gap — finishing at a strong 90-72, six games out of first place and five games behind the wild-card-winning Detroit Tigers.
2. Cleveland Indians (2005)
Just the year prior, the Cleveland Indians missed out on the playoffs due to that same White Sox team. Cleveland featured some strong hitters in their prime, including Victor Martinez, Coco Crisp, Grady Sizemore, and Jhonny Peralta. They were a home-run machine, with all nine starting players clubbing 16 or more homers on the season. The pitching was strong too, with young starters Cliff Lee and C.C. Sabathia as their one-two punch.
The Indians got off to a weak start while the Sox took the division — and the league — by storm. On August 1, Cleveland was just 55-51 and 14.5 games back of first place. But they went on an absolute tear, going 37-12 and narrowing the lead to just 1.5 games with seven games remaining in the season, including a final three-game series against the White Sox. However, Cleveland ran out of gas, going 1-6 in those games and missing the playoffs despite their 93-69 record.
3. Seattle Mariners (2002)
Coming off a amazing 116-win season in 2001, there were questions about how the Mariners would repeat their success. Would the league catch up to their rookie sensation, Ichiro Suzuki? Turns out, the Mariners performed well yet again. Ichiro had another outstanding season in his second year; 39-year-old pitcher Jamie Moyer had an age-defying performance as the staff ace; and the Mariners seemed competitive yet again.
However, they nowhere near as good as the 116-win team from the year before. Seattle got off to an excellent 18-8 start in April, but it was slow going from there. They led the division by a slim margin all the way to mid-August, when two walk-off losses in Cleveland kicked off a short slump that saw them drop to six games behind the Oakland A’s in the AL West. Despite the fact that they finished 93-69, they ended up 10-games behind the A’s and six behind the Anaheim Angels in the wild card.
4. Montreal Expos (1993)
Everyone remembers the 1994 Montreal Expos as getting the short stick, but the 1993 team was good, too. In ’94, Montreal was famously the best team in baseball at the time of the player strike that ended the season. But the year prior, the lack of a wild card meant that only two of the best MLB teams could make the playoffs. In the NL East, the Expos were locked in a tight battle with the Philadelphia Phillies.
With such luminaries as Larry Walker, Moises Alou, Delino DeShields, and Marquis Grissom on the roster, the Expos powered their way to a 94-68 record that season. They were as far as 14.5 games behind Philadelphia on August 20, but they went on a furious, 30-9 run that saw them trim the lead down to just three games by the end of the year. Unfortunately, this talented team played during a time when so few of the best MLB teams made the playoffs — but they weren’t even the biggest snub that year. More on that later.
5. Cincinnati Reds (1999)
The ’99 Cincinnati Reds had a lot of young talent on the roster, with Sean Casey, Pokey Reese, Aaron Boone, and Mike Cameron on the offensive side and several high-potential, young relievers on the pitching staff. Fortunately, the wild card was in play, so they still had a chance at contending for the playoffs even though they were in the same division as the Houston Astros (who edged out the Reds in the NL Central by just one game).
With just five games remaining in the season, the Reds were a game ahead of Houston in the division and 3.5 games ahead of the New York Mets in the wild card, so things looked good. But the Reds went just 1-4 and — although Houston nudged them out of the division lead — the Mets went 5-1 to tie Cincinnati for the wild card at 96-66. This meant they’d play game 163 against the Mets to decide the wild-card winner. Mets pitcher Al Leiter came into Cincinnati and threw a complete game shutout to end the Reds’ season.
6. San Francisco Giants (1993)
The San Francisco Giants also got a raw deal back in 1993, and this event was predominantly what spurred Major League Baseball to create the wild-card system we’re accustomed to. It was Barry Bonds’ first year with the Giants after leaving the Pittsburgh Pirates, and he had a tremendous season, posting a 1.136 OPS with 46 home runs. Closer Rod Beck had an exceptional season too, with a 2.16 ERA and 48 saves in 52 chances.
But it wasn’t meant to be for San Francisco, despite an astounding 103-59 record. After a win against the Phillies on July 22, the Giants were 10 games up on the Atlanta Braves in the NL West and looked like they would coast into the postseason. At 38-27 the rest of the way, however, they didn’t lose the division so much as the Braves stolen it from them. Atlanta went on to close out the season with a red-hot 49-16 pace — edging out the Giants by one game. If they had a four-team playoff system back then, it would’ve been fun to see the Braves, Giants, Phillies, and Expos playing each other in October.