That's five, maybe six, teams scratching and clawing to get the chance to play one extra game. And after all that, one team will be ending its season only a day or two later than hopeless cases such as the Miami Marlins or Houston Astros.
"Is it fair? Of course not," Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. "But I'd rather play in a one-game playoff than not be involved in one at all."
Showalter would know. His team beat Texas last season to face the Yankees in the AL Division Series. He also managed in the first wild card round, with the 1995 Yankees. They got to play a full series, though, and nearly upset the Mariners in a first round that went the full five games.
Since then, wild-card teams have outperformed expectations by winning more than half of their series. Last year, St. Louis beat Atlanta (with some help from a dubious call) in the one-game wild card, then eliminated Washington before losing in the NLCS.
In fact, the World Series has been won by a wild card five times, most recently by the 2011 Cardinals. Four of the last 10 World Series champs have been wild card winners. Three more made it to the World Series and lost.
Whichever AL teams make the wild card will have spent plenty of time fighting to qualify at the end of the season. In the NL, it might work out easier. The Braves are running away and hiding in the East, and the Dodgers began Friday with a 9Â½-game lead on Arizona.
The Diamondbacks were 7 games out of the second wild-card spot, so that race could come down to the Pirates, Cardinals and Reds jockeying for the division title and to dodge the one-game playoff.
Two years ago, the stakes might have been a bit higher. With three teams that close, one would win the division, one would be the wild card and the third would get nothing. That could be everything to teams like the Pirates, whose last postseason appearance came before there was a wild card, in 1992.
AP Sports Writers Tom Withers in Cleveland, David Ginsburg in Baltimore, Dave Skretta in Kansas City, Mo., and AP freelancer Mark Schmetzer in Cincinnati, contributed to this report.