This could be an exciting World Series, as the National League Philadelphia Phillies face the American League Houston Astros. The Phillies join a number of teams that have made it to the World Series as a Wild Card, which as you likely know is a team that wasn’t a Division winner but made it into the playoffs as an extra team, an outlier given a chance, while adding balance and a little suspense to the playoffs.
The Wild Card team came to Major League Baseball in the 1995 season, and it has changed format a few times. The most recent year? Just this season, when a new wrinkle—a Wild Card playoff series, instead of one game—was added. (You can read our recent article on it here.)
How the Phillies got here.
This year, Philadelphia was one of three National League teams to snag a Wild Card spot. (The Mets and Padres were the others.) Here’s what happened next:
- The Phillies beat the favorite St. Louis Cardinals in the inaugural Wild Card Series (WCS), two games to none.
- In the NL Division Series, the Phillies beat the favored Atlanta Braves, the Central Division winner, three games to one.
- They next faced and beat the surprising San Diego Padres four games to one in the NL Championship Series. The upstart Padres, a Wild Card team itself, had upset the heavily favored L.A. Dodgers, who won 111 games this season, the most in their franchise’s history.
From Wild Card to champion.
A handful of Wild Card teams have found their way into the World Series. In fact, there have even been two instances when both teams in the Series were Wild Card teams. Can you guess when that was? Here’s a look at the teams that turned their opportunity into a World Series win.
1997 – Florida Marlins defeat the Cleveland Indians in seven. The beloved Jim Leyland was the skipper of the Marlins, who’d been in the League just four years. Liván Hernández was the MVP. Orel Hershiser and Manny Ramírez were on the Indians.
2002 – Anaheim Angels defeat the San Francisco Giantsin seven. This was one of the first times in which two Wild Card teams met in the series. It was the first time the Angels had made it to the World Series, and they haven’t come close to it again.
2003 – Florida Marlins defeat the New York Yankees in six. This was the Yankees’ fifth appearance in six years, so the Marlins were truly the underdog. The Marlins were back (as a Wild Card again). The Marlins haven’t been back to a World Series since. NOTE: The Marlins beat the Cubs in the NCLS, the series which featured the famous “Bartman” Game 6.
2004 – Boston Red Sox sweep the St. Louis Cardinals. This was the historic World Series that saw the Red Sox end the so-called “Curse of the Bambino.” But it wasn’t easy making it to the World Series. The Sox had to overcome a 0-3 game deficit against the Yankees...which they did. The team featured pitchers Pedro Martínez, Curt Schilling and Derek Lowe. The Curse was shattered over a four-game sweep.
2011 – Cardinals beat the Texas Rangers in seven. The Rangers were one strike away from winning the Series...in both Game 6 and 7! Game 6 of the Series is considered one of the best Series games of all time. The Rangers had a two-run lead in the ninth inning when David Freese, the eventual Series MVP, hit a game-tying triple.
2014 – Giants defeat the Kansas City Royals in seven. This Series was a showcase for Giants fiery ace Madison Bumgarner, who was the Series MVP. He won two games, including a complete-game shutout in Game 5. He capped his exploits with five innings of relief pitching, on two days’ rest, to close out Game 7.
2019 – Washington Nationals defeat the Houston Astros in seven. Except for actual Houston Astros fans, not too many baseball fans wanted to see Houston win the World Series, not after all the serious allegations of cheating after their 2017 World Series “victory” over the Dodgers. The Nationals took care of that with a Series win in seven games. The MVP was pitcher Stephen Strasburg, who won two games.
The odds favor Houston…
The Phillies are not favored to win the 2022 World Series, but as history shows us, the top team doesn’t always win. And that’s always been the exciting part of the Wild Card component. It has given an extra team (or two) a chance to achieve the dream.
And a handful of Wild Card teams have done that. Will the Phillies be next?
Resources: cbssports.com/mlb/news/2022-mlb-playoffs-bracket; mlb.com/world-series-recaps; baseball-reference.com/world-series-wildcard; Wikipedia.org/wildcard_champions; mlb.com/wild-card-WS-winners; mlb.com/postseason/history/world-series; sbnation.com/world-series-st-louis-cardinals-texas-rangers