Won-lost records do not forecast champions
In Wild Card era, playing field is even regardless of victory totals
As the Cardinals have proven twice in the past six seasons, you don't have to win more in the regular season than your postseason competitors to win it all.
While regular-season success obviously punches teams' tickets to the postseason, the Cards' rise to the 2011 World Series title was just another example of how getting into the playoffs is the only key you need to the kingdom of parades and confetti. Their regular-season record of 90-72 was eighth among the eight-team playoff pool, yet they stood on top at the end, just as they did in 2006, when they won the National League Central with an 83-78 record.
The flip side is that the Phillies received no trophy for winning more games than anyone with a franchise-record 102 victories last year and 97 the year before -- although having 92 wins in 2008 led to a title.
So as we turn toward Spring Training 2012 with teams obviously eyeing more victories than they had last season along the 162-game marathon route, history throughout the Wild Card era shows that getting into the postseason party is more important than how you get there. Stumbling in, going through the back door, taking an alternate route -- they all work just as well toward gaining the game's ultimate prize.
And here's something else to consider: With changes afoot to add a second Wild Card team as early as this year but definitely by 2013, another team from down the standings will be added into the equation.
If such a thing were in place last season, the Braves and Red Sox wouldn't have finished on such sour notes, after all. And 12 teams in years past would have been rewarded for 90-win seasons, none more so than the 96-win Reds in 1999.
One-third of Major League Baseball's 30 teams will be in the postseason when the additional Wild Cards kick in, and from what we know so far from Wild Card teams' success in October, they're all going to have a championship within their grasp.
In the 17 seasons since Wild Cards necessitated an additional round of playoffs, history has provided a portrait of opportunity for all comers. There have been five Wild Card winners of the World Series, including the 2011 Cardinals. St. Louis also became the third team to win the World Series after entering the playoffs with the fewest wins of the eight participants, joining the 2000 Yankees and 2006 Cards.
Thing is, the same number of teams have taken the best regular-season record all the way to the World Series title. In the 17 seasons under the current system, only three teams -- the 2009 Yankees, the 2007 Red Sox and the 1998 Yankees -- won more games than anyone on the way to a World Series title.
That's not something that makes a team pull the reins and try not to take the top spot -- only two teams have been No. 2 and gone all the way, anyway.
And the reality is none of this is scientific, just trends to observe as the countdown begins to another season.
So, with changes on the horizon for the Wild Card that will only bring in fewer regular-season wins, here's a look back at the history of how teams have rated in the regular-season vs. the postseason.
WINS AND POSTSEASON RESULTS
|1995 (144 games)|
John Schlegel is a national reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.