The Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees are in hot pursuit of the American League East division crown for yet another year. Coming into play on Monday, August 22, New York has a 0.5 game lead on Boston with less than 40 games remaining in the 2011 season. If this had been 1991, these rivals would be much more anxious about taking the top spot in the AL East because the odd team out would not have made the playoffs. However, with the advent of the wild card in 1995, the regular season has not been as crucial. The Red Sox currently have an almost insurmountable 7.5-game lead in the wild card standings, so both they and the Yankees seem to be in prime position for the postseason.
Although the wild card has taken some of the importance out of the regular season, the playoffs have become even more exciting. Turning back 16 years, the advent of the wild card gave the 1995 Major League Baseball playoffs a big boost. For the first time in history, the MLB postseason involved 4 teams in each league. After the 1994 strike, Bud Selig and MLB executives had expanded both the American and National Leagues from 2 to 3 divisions. Instead of just having 2 postseason rounds, the MLB now had 3 in order to accommodate the reformation of the leagues.
One may state that resting players may benefit the Red Sox for the postseason; others are more in favor of fighting the Yankees to win the AL East. Since 1995, the Red Sox have only won the division twice in 16 years. They sat atop the AL East in 1995 and 2007 and those postseasons ended with opposite results. In 1995, the Cleveland Indians swept the Sox in the American League Division Series; but in 2007, Boston went a combined 11-3 to win the World Series.
The other year that the Red Sox won the World Series was the miracle season of 2004 when they made the postseason as the wild card. Wild cards have won 4 of last 16 World Series. Each postseason includes 8 teams, 2 of which are wild cards. Therefore, mathematically, there is no disadvantage to entering the playoffs as a wild card team. Boston has entered the postseason as the wild card 7 times and their record in those playoffs was a combined 28-23 (.549) compared to 11-6 (.647) as the division winner. The ultimate goal of the Red Sox organization is to win the World Series. Consequently, we may want to look at their success at winning the World Series. Boston has won one championship as the division winner and one as the wild card representative from a possible 2 division winner chances and 7 wild card chances. Additionally, as a division winner in 2011, the Red Sox would have home field advantage throughout the first two rounds of the playoffs. In the end, Terry Francona and the Red Sox should be going for the division win. That will give the team the best chance at achieving their 3rd championship in 8 years.