All Hail the Wild Card
The Angels have made the playoffs in 4 of the last 6 seasons, and at first glance this represents the most successful period of their history. But how much of that is due to the change in rules, realignment of the division and a wild card?
Pretty much all of it. The early to mid 80's Angels, in the same format, would have been just as good. Here's a little revisionist history, adding the wild card to the 80's:
1982: Angels win west, as they did in real life
1983: A disaster either way
1984: They were tied with the Twins with a 7th best 81-81 record, but would have won a weak west. Toronto (89 takes the east ahead of 3 other .500+ teams, Detroit, the only great team that year, takes the central. KC with 84 wins is out of the playoffs. Angels win a weak west with 81 wins, 4 ahead of Oakland, and Yankees get a wild card
1985: A very good 1985 team finished 1 back of Kansas City, in revionist history they each get a division title.
1986: AL west leaders as in real life.
That's 4 West titles in 5 years. After2 bad seasons, they come back in 1989 to make it 5 playoffs out of 8 years. The 91-71 team finished in third that year, but Oakland gets the west, Minnesota the central, and that leaves us the wild card.
If the recent teams had to compete in the 2 playoff team system, things would be a lot worse:
2002: 99 wins is only good for a second place finish. Like the 1993 Giants (103-59) they would have to settle for being one of the best teams ever to have been kept out of the playoffs.
2004: Yankees win the East. Boston in second. Their playoff run never happens (at least some good would have come out of keeping the 2 division format). Angels and Twins tie at 92 wins - we get a 1 game playoff to see if we're worthy of facing the Yankees or not.
2005: 95 wins are not good enough, second place behind the White Sox.
2007: Our first undisputed Division title since 1986! But the end result is probably the same. Boston would face Cleveland in a 1 game playoff, and most likely win as Beckett it would be Sabathia vs Beckett, and Beckett beat him both times in their actual playoff matchups.