There’s nothing quite like meaningful postseason baseball. As the calendar winds down towards October, MLB fans anxiously watch and hope that their team has what it takes to clinch a playoff berth.

History of MLB Wild Card Games

Over the last 25 years, Major League Baseball has tweaked their playoff rules a couple of times which has drastically changed their end-of-season tournament. Prior to 1994, only the division leaders in the American and National League made the playoffs. This system worked fine in the 1960s and 1970s but due to rapid expansion, it became incredibly tough for teams to make the playoffs given that there were only four spots available.

In 1995, the MLB decided to add a “wild card team” from each league and expanded to three divisions in both the AL and NL, which meant a total of eight teams made the playoffs. They expanded on this rule back in 2012, and we now have five teams from each league duking it out for supremacy.

In honor of the Wild Card races heating up, we’ve taken a look at some of the best wild card teams in MLB history. Let’s get into it!

Florida Marlins (1997)

It didn’t take long for a Wild Card team to win a World Series, as the Florida Marlins defeated the Cleveland Indians in seven games in just the third year of the Wild Card’s existence. The 1997 squad was anchored by 22-year-old pitcher Livan Hernandez, who sported a 4-0 record in the playoffs that year and won World Series MVP. The Marlins were able to clinch the series victory thanks to an 11th inning walk-off single in Game 7 by shortstop Edgar Renteria.

Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim (2002)

After finishing four games behind the Oakland Athletics in the AL West, Mike Scioscia’s 2002 Angels team found themselves in the playoffs thanks to the Wild Card. The Angels went on an impressive 7-2 run in the ALDS and ALCS, and eventually vanquished the San Francisco Giants in seven games to win the World Series. The Giants were also Wild Card winners that season, which made the 2002 World Series the first meeting between two Wild Card teams in the World Series. Troy Glaus was named the World Series MVP for the Angels due to his hot bat as he hit three home runs and drove in eight runs in the series against the Giants.

Florida Marlins (2003)

Just six years after their first World Series Championship, the Marlins again won baseball’s ultimate prize as a Wild Card team in 2003. After vanquishing the Cubs thanks in part to Steve Bartman’s interference, Jack McKeon’s team made quick work out of the New York Yankees, beating them in six games. Josh Beckett’s complete game shutout in Game 6 sealed the deal for Florida and earned him series MVP.

Boston Red Sox (2004)

Just one year removed from crushing heartbreak, Terry Francona’s “bunch of idiots” were finally able to reverse the curse of the Bambino in 2004. After falling three games down to the Yankees in the ALCS, the Red Sox were able to win four games straight against all odds and proceeded to sweep the St. Louis Cardinals for the team’s first World Series since 1918. Manny Ramirez and David Ortiz provided a 1-2 punch for the Sox lineup, and Ortiz’s clutch playoff heroics in 2004 will long be remembered by Sox fans.

St. Louis Cardinals (2011)

The 2011 St. Louis Cardinals might not have ended up on this list had it not been for the heroics of David Freese. Down to their last strike in Game 6 of the World Series, the Cardinals rallied to tie the game on a two-run triple by Freese. The man who went on to win World Series MVP’s heroics didn’t stop there – his walk-off homer in the 11th inning forced a game seven, which the Cardinals won with ease.

San Francisco Giants (2014)

The 2014 World Series was another instant classic, which featured two wild card teams in the Kansas City Royals and the San Francisco Giants. The series went a full seven games, with the Giants narrowly edging the Royals in a one-run affair in Game 7. Giants ace Madison Bumgarner deservedly won the Series MVP that year as he won two games in the series and pitched on just two days rest for a three-inning save in Game 7.

(Image courtesy of Eric Kilby via Flickr.)