Sports 101

Glance at current baseball standings, and you may notice that all but one division (American League West) have a division champion. But throw in two wild-card teams, and it shakes things up a bit. Suddenly, the picture isn't so black-and-white. What is a wild-card team, you ask? Below are some questions and answers to help explain the concept.

A: A wild-card is a team that finishes with the best record among those teams that aren't division winners in the National or American Leagues. For example, the Boston Red Sox don't have a chance to win the Eastern Division, but they do have a chance to finish with the best second-place record. Simply put, it gives second-place teams another shot at making it to the playoffs.

Q: When did the wild-card race come into play, and why did it start?

A: In 1994, a new division called the Central Division was introduced. This addition prompted the creation of a second tier of playoffs - a three-of-five game series followed by a four-of-seven playoff to determine a league champion. But the wild-card concept didn't get off the ground until the following year because the strike brought the season to a halt.

BASEBALL'S WILD-CARD RACE*

American League

W L PCT. GB

Boston 89 69 .563 -

Toronto 86 73 .541 31/2

National League

W L PCT. GB

Chicago 88 71 .553 -

New York 88 71 .553 -

San Fran 86 72 .544 11/2

*not including last night's games

By Joan Rappaport

Q: Has a wild-card team ever won a World Series?

A: Yes. Last season, the Florida Marlins became the first wild-card team to accomplish this feat.

Q: Not everyone is wild about the wild-card system. Why not?

A: It adds an extra round to the playoffs, thus prolonging an already long baseball season; some critics say it lessens the value of winning a division; and it also makes it more difficult for teams trying to determine whether they are going to the playoffs or if they should start rebuilding for next season. But most would agree that it adds excitement and much-needed energy to the season.

Q: When do the wild-card playoffs begin?

A: First round of the five-game playoffs begins next Tuesday at 1 p.m. on ESPN and Fox. Teams and locations still to be determined.

* Send comments to: parneyl@csps.com

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