How Do Wild Card Games Work MLB?

Photo of author

By Eric Wilson

Baseball fans around the world eagerly anticipate the MLB post-season every year. The playoffs are a thrilling time when the best teams in baseball compete for the World Series championship. But how do wild card games work in MLB?

Wild card games were introduced to baseball in 2012, and they’ve been a hit ever since. Essentially, a wild card team is one that didn’t win its division but still qualified for the playoffs as one of the two best non-division-winning teams in its league. In other words, it’s a team that has earned a playoff spot without winning their division.

The wild card game is a single-elimination game that pits two wild card teams against each other. The winner of this game advances to the Division Series, where they’ll face off against one of the three division winners in their league.

Why Were Wild Card Games Introduced?

Before 2012, there were only four teams from each league that qualified for the playoffs: three division winners and one wild card team. However, this format meant that some deserving teams missed out on the post-season because they happened to play in a tough division.

For instance, imagine a situation where two of the best teams in baseball happen to be in the same division. Only one team can win that division and qualify for the playoffs automatically; the other team would miss out on post-season play entirely.

To address this issue and ensure that more deserving teams made it to the playoffs, MLB introduced an additional wild card spot for each league starting from 2012.

How Are Wild Card Teams Determined?

The two wild card spots are given to the two non-division-winning teams with the best records in each league. These teams face off against each other in a single-elimination game at or near the home stadium of whichever team has a better record.

If both wild card teams have identical records at season’s end, the team that won the season series between the two teams during the regular season gets to host the game. If they split their season series, then home-field advantage is determined by whichever team had the better record against divisional opponents.

  • Wild Card Game Format and Rules

The wild card game is a one-off match that takes place after the regular season has ended. The winner of this game advances to play in a five-game Division Series against one of the three division winners in their league.

The wild card game is played according to standard baseball rules and lasts nine innings (or extra innings if necessary). The home team is determined as outlined above, and they get to bat last in every inning.


Wild card games have brought an extra level of excitement to MLB playoffs since their introduction in 2012. They give more teams a chance to compete for the World Series championship and make for thrilling do-or-die contests. With this article, you should now have a better understanding of how wild card games work in MLB.