When baseball officially added the second wild-card playoff spots before the 2012 season, you almost certainly didn't mentally pick the Baltimore Orioles and the Oakland Athletics as this year's AL wild cards. If you did, it may have been under the influence of a mind-altering substance.
The A's and O's were picked to have their seasons end in September for very good reasons at the time. The Orioles were coming off a dismal 2011 in which they made a bunch of moves to try to achieve a .500 record, but they missed by a dozen games. Baltimore had last been a relevant team in 1997, back when Dennis Eckersley and Eddie Murray were still playing and we connected to the Internet with dial-up modems.
Oakland's history wasn't as bleak, but since the last spurt of the "Moneyball" A's in their 93-win 2006 season, they maxed out at only 81 wins ('10) and the trades of Trevor Cahill, Gio Gonzalez and Andrew Bailey heralded a new round of rebuilding.
If the 2012 season ended today, the O's would be in the playoffs and the A's would be only a game out of the playoffs, a rather big difference from preseason expectations. So, just how did the two clubs get back to respectability this year? Simply put, they didn't try to.