How Many Wins Will It Take To Make Expanded Playoffs?

Image credit: (Photo by Robert Gauthier/LA Times via Getty Images)

As the lockout inches towards its 100th day and negotiations remain ongoing, one area the league and players union appear to have agreed on is an expanded postseason.

Major League Baseball proposed expanding the playoffs from 10 to 14 teams while the MLB Players Association has primarily proposed expanding it to 12 teams during negotiations. Whichever number the two sides settle on—it appears more likely to be 12 teams at this exact juncture—the threshold for teams to make the playoffs is likely to be altered.

In the nine full seasons since MLB added the second wild card in 2012, the team with the fifth-best record in each league averaged 89 wins. The team with the sixth-best record in each league averaged 87 wins. The team with the seventh-best record in each league averaged 84 wins.

The median win total for the fifth-best team in each league was 89 wins, as well. The median for the sixth-best team was 86 wins and the median for the seventh-best team was 83 wins.

Essentially, 89 wins was more or less the target for teams to reach the postseason under the 10-team format. In a 12-team format, that target drops by 2-3 wins. In a 14-team format, it would drop by 5-6 wins.

League Finish Avg  Median  Range
5th 89 89 85-96
6th 87 86 80-93
7th 84 83 79-90

Beyond the pure win totals, the greatest distinction between a 12-team playoff and a 14-team playoff is how often a team with a losing record would qualify for the postseason.

Since 2012, a team with a losing record would have made the postseason only once in a 12-team format. That would have been in the American League in 2017, when one of the 80-82 Royals, Rays or Angels would have made the playoffs.

In a 14-team format, four teams with a losing record would have made the postseason (plus an 81-81 team).

As it stands, no team in MLB history has made the playoffs with a losing record in a full season. The 2005 Padres, who won the National League West with an 82-80 record, hold the distinction of fewest wins by a playoff team. The 2006 Cardinals, who went 83-78, hold the record for fewest wins by a World Series champion.

Editor’s Note: The year the postseason was expanded to include a second wild card has been corrected.

Longest Active Playoff Droughts
Team Seasons Last Postseason Appearance
Mariners 20 2001
Phillies 10 2011
Tigers 7 2014
Angels 7 2014
Pirates 6 2015
Royals 6 2015
Orioles 5 2016
Mets 5 2016
Rangers 5 2016
D-backs 4 2017

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