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Hot Stone League

Larry Stone gives his take on a wide array of baseball issues and weighs in about the Mariners, too.

April 21, 2011 at 11:58 PM

Mariners could have had four extra postseason berths under proposed expanded-playoff format

johnson95.jpg

(Randy Johnson celebrates the final out of the one-game playoff with the Angels on Oct. 2, 1995, clinching the first playoff appearance is franchise history. Photo by Associated Press)

Mariners’ history would have had a markedly different tenor if the expanded playoff system likely to be instituted next year had been in effect in previous years.

Under the proposed plan, there will be an extra wild-card team in each league. The two wild-card winners will play each other (in either a one-game, winner-take-all game, or a best-of-three series, according to reports), and the winner will play one of the division winners, presumably the one with the best record. The other two division winners would play to get into the League Championship Series, and the postseason will proceed from that point as it has previously.

One of the understandable frustrations of Mariners fans is that they have had just four playoff appearances in their existence, which began in 1977. But if there had been two wild-card teams dating back to the inception of three divisions and expanded playoffs in 1995 (actually, 1994, but the strike wiped out the postseason that year), the Mariners would have added as many as four additional trips to the postseason — potentially doubling their playoff exposure.

I use qualifiers such as “as many as” and “potentially” because there were some ties involved, as I’ll explain. But the M’s would have been in line to make the playoffs as the second wild card team in 1996, 2002, 2003 and 2007.

Just imagine how that could have changed Mariner history. Perhaps one of those teams would have caught fire and given the M’s that elusive World Series appearance. Perhaps Lou Piniella would have been enticed to stay in Seattle if the Mariners had made the playoffs in 2002. Or if not, perhaps his replacement, Bob Melvin, wouldn’t have been fired after two years if his initial season in 2003 had resulted in a playoff berth. And what would have been the ramifications for John McLaren if the M’s, despite their late-season collapse, had sneaked into the playoffs in 2007, after he took over when Mike Hargrove resigned on July 2?

In 1996, the Mariners actually played just 161 games, because a rainout in Cleveland on Sept. 7 and rescheduled for Sept. 30 was never played. The Rangers won the AL West that year with a 90-72 record, while the Orioles were the wild card at 88-74. The Mariners finished 85-76 (.528), while the White Sox and Red Sox were at 85-77 (.525). Under the new format, the Mariners would have flown to Cleveland after the season to make up the game with the Indians. If they won, they would have been in the postseason as the second wild card. If they lost, baseball would have had its first-ever three-way tie, and who knows what method they would have used to settle it? But it would have been exciting.

In 2002 — a year after they won 116 games to run away with the AL West — the M’s went 93-69. That put them well behind the A’s (103-59) in the AL West, and also out of contention for the wild card, which went to the eventual World Series champion Angels (99-63). But if there were a second wild card, the Mariners would have tied with the Red Sox, who also went 93-69. Wouldn’t that one-game playoff have been fun? If the Mariners had won, three out of four teams in the AL West would have made the playoffs! (Three teams from one division would have occurred a few others times, as you’ll see in the chart that follows).

The following season, 2003, would have given the Mariners clean entry into the postseason. Melvin replaced Piniella that year and put up the same 93-69 record. Oakland again won the division at 96-66, while the Red Sox won the wild card at 95-67. The Mariners would have handily won the second wild card over the Blue Jays and White Sox, both of whom went 86-76.

The 2007 season would have resulted in another one-game playoff for the Mariners, who, despite losing 13 of 14 from Aug. 25 to Sept. 8, finished at 88-74, the same record as the Tigers. The Angels won the AL West at 94-68 while the Yankees took the wild card, also at 94-68.

The Mariners, however, would have had the excitement of its most compelling playoff race diminished under the proposed new format. In 1995, as we all remember, the Mariners and Angels went down to the wire for the AL West title, ending up tied at 78-66. They played an epic one-game playoff at the Kingdome, which the Mariners won 9-1, aided by the legendary “Everybody scores!” base-clearing hit of Luis Sojo. But if there had been two wild-card teams, both teams would have been in the postseason, one as division champion, the other as the second wild card behind the Yankees (who finished 79-65).

You can look at all kinds of revisionist history if this format had been in place in past years. Could the baseball spirit have been rekindled in Montreal if they had made the playoffs in 1996 for just the second time in franchise history? The Blue Jays wouldn’t be working on an 18-year playoff drought if they had sneaked in as the second wild card in 1998 — only 13 years. The Barry Bonds-Giants would have had as many as three more cracks at the postseason.

Here is a look at which teams, from 1995 to 2010, would have made the playoffs under a format of two wild card teams. These results aren’t set in stone, because teams might have played entirely differently in September if a second wild-card was up for grabs. But all we can go by is the standings as they existed, and here are the results:

1995

American League

Wild card: Yankees 79-65 (.549)

Extra wild card: Angels or Mariners 78-66

National League

Wild card: Rockies 77-67 (.535)

Extra wild card: Astros 76-68 (.528

1996

American League

Wild card: Orioles 88-74 (.543)

Extra wild card: Mariners 85-76 (.528), White Sox 85-77 (.525) or Red Sox 85-77 (.525)

(Note: The Mariners had a rain out they didn’t make up because it didn’t impact the standings. But if there had been expanded playoffs, they would have had to make up the game. If they won, they would have been the second wild-card team. However, if they lost, it would have created a three-way tie with the White Sox and Red Sox for the second wild-card, wreaking havoc with the postseason.

National League

Wild card: Dodgers 90-72 (.556)

Extra wild card: Expos 88-74 (.543)

1997

American League

Wild card: Yankees 96-66 (.593)

Extra wild card: Angels 84-78 (.519

National League

Wild card: Marlins 92-70 (.568)

Extra wild card: Dodgers, Mets tied at 88-74 (.543)

1998

American League

Wild card: Red Sox 92-70 (.568)

Extra wild card: Blue Jays 88-74 (.543)

National League

Wild card: Cubs and Giants tied at 89-73 (.552)

Extra wild card: Cubs or Giants.

Note: The Cubs defeated the Giants in a one-game playoff to determine the NL’s wild-card team. The playoff would have been unnecessary if there were two wild-card teams.

1999

American League

Wild card: Red Sox 94-68 (.580)

Extra wild card: A’s 87-75 (.537)

National League

Wild card: Mets and Reds tied at 96-66

Extra wild card: Mets or Reds.

(Note: The Mets defeated the Reds in a one-game playoff to determine the NL’s wild-card team. See 1998 note).

2000

American League

Wild card: Mariners 91-71 (.562)

Extra wild card: Indians 90-72 (.556)

National League

Wild card: Mets 94-68

Extra wild card: Dodgers 86-76

2001

American League

Wild card: A’s 102-60 (.630)

Extra wild card: Twins 85-77

National League

Wild card: Cardinals 93-69 (.574)

Extra wild card: Giants 90-72 (.556)

2002

American League

Wild card: Angels 99-63 (.611)

Extra wild card: Red Sox or Mariners, 93-69 (.574)

National League

Wild card: Giants 95-66 (.590)

Extra wild card: Dodgers 92-70 (.568)

2003

American League

Wild card: Red Sox 95-67

Extra wild card: Mariners 93-69 (.574)

National League

Wild card: Marlins 91-71 (.562)

Extra wild card: Astros 87-75 (.537

2004

American League

Wild card: Red Sox 98-64 (.605)

Extra wild card: A’s 91-71 (.562)

National League

Wild card: Astros 92-70 (.568)

Extra wild card: Giants 91-71 (.562)

2005

American League

Wild card: Red Sox 95-67 (.582)

Extra wild card: Indians 93-69 (.574)

National League

Wild card: Astros 89-73 (.549)

Extra wild card: Phillies 88-74 (.543)

2006

American League

Wild card: Tigers 95-67 (.586)

Extra wild card: White Sox 90-72 (.556)

National League

Wild card: Dodgers 88-74 (.543)

Extra wild card: Phillies 85-77 (.525)

2007

American League

Wild card: Yankees 94-68 (.580)

Extra wild card: Tigers and Mariners tied, 88-74 (.543)

National League

Wild card: Rockies and Padres tied, 89-73 (.549).

Extra wild-card: Rockies or Padres.

Note: Rockies defeated Padres in a one-game playoff to determined NL’s wild-card team. The playoff would have been unnecessary if there were two wild-card teams.

2008

American League

Wild card: Red Sox 95-67 (.586)

Extra wild card: Yankees 89-73 (.549)

National League

Wild card: Brewers 90-72 (.556)

Extra wild card: Mets 89-73 (.549)

2009

American League

Wild card: Red Sox 95-67 (.586)

Extra wild card: Rangers 87-75 (.537)

National League

Wild card: Rockies 92-70 (.568)

Extra wild card: Giants 88-74 (.543)

2010

American League

Wild card: Yankees 95-67 (.586)

Extra wild card: Red Sox 89-73 (.549)

National League

Wild card: Braves 91-71 (.562)

Extra wild card: Padres 90-72 (.556)

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