How many wins does it take? …

The kid went to Mr. Owl to find out how many licks it takes to get to the Tootsie Roll center of a Tootsie Pop. (Big mistake.) We’ll go with Mr. History with our own inquiry.

Us: Mr. History, how many wins will it take to get the second Wild Card in the American League? 

History: Let’s see … one, a-two-hoo, a-three … 88. 

88. Or, more precisely, 88.24. From 1995 (the first year divisional play was actually put into practice) and 2011 (the last year before the new playoff format), that’s the average number of wins by the American League team that would’ve claimed the second Wild Card spot under this new system.

For the Angels, now a season-best 14 games over .500 while at 77-63, that means a mere 11-11 record the rest of the way. Totally do-able. But, of course, it’s not so simple. Every year, it’s different. And this year, the Orioles, Athletics and Rays — with combined payrolls of just under $200 million — have all surprised and don’t show signs of slowing down. But the Rays (tied with the Angels for third place in the AL Wild Card race) are on pace for 88 wins, the Orioles (one-game lead on the Angels for the second AL Wild Card spot) are on pace for 89 and the Athletics (2 1/2 games ahead of the Angels for the first AL Wild Card spot) are on pace for 90.

So perhaps that figure isn’t very far off.

The most wins by the team that would’ve claimed the second AL Wild Card spot over the previous 17 years is 93. For the Angels, that would mean a much more difficult 16-6 finish over their last 22 games (4 vs. OAK, 3 at KCR, 3 vs. TEX, 3 vs. CWS, 3 vs. SEA, 3 at TEX, 3 at SEA).

Here’s a year-by-year look at the above-mentioned …

2011: 90 (Red Sox)
2010: 89 (Red Sox)
2009: 87 (Rangers)
2008: 89 (Yankees)
2007: 88 (Mariners/Tigers)
2006: 90 (White Sox)
2005: 93 (Indians)
2004: 91 (Athletics)
2003: 93 (Mariners)
2002: 93 (Red Sox/Mariners)
2001: 85 (Twins)
2000: 90 (Indians)
1999: 87 (Athletics)
1998: 88 (Blue Jays)
1997: 84 (Angels)
1996: 85 (Mariners/White Sox/Red Sox)
1995: 78 (Angels)

With their 3-2 win over the Tigers on Sunday, the Angels — thanks in large part to a rotation that’s finally living up to its billing — have won six in a row, 11 of their last 12 and 15 of their last 18, after starting the second half at 14-22. Next up, they’ll face an A’s team they recently swept but is coming off its own sweep of the Mariners.


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