Extra wild card berths adding vitality to September baseball
Glenwood Springs, Colorado CO
Baseball purists hate it.
Just like they hate the designated hitter, interleague play, instant replay, realignment and the price of a ballpark hot dog.
Wild cards can be a good thing, though. Consider them longshots, underdogs, dubious teams that creep into the postseason and occasionally get hot enough to knock the snot out of the favorites.
Major League Baseball’s wild cards ran wild during the 2002-2004 seasons, capturing back-to-back-to-back world titles, including the only all-wild card World Series ever played between the Angels and Giants during the first year of the trifecta. Since the three-peat, only the Cards of St. Louis have won the whole shebang from the wild-card position, just last year.
So, why all the brouhaha about increasing the number of teams eligible for postseason play from eight to 10 this year?
For one, traditionalists have never embraced the 1995 inception of the wild card in the first place. Their logic, or stubbornness, centers on the unadventurous belief that baseball is not a game of change, that growth in the sport should take a backseat to decades of conventional wisdom. Essentially, don’t change anything, ever. Baseball is too sanctified for change.
Others, like me, embrace a moderate quantity of change, including the new wild-card format and interleague play, while gladly opposing the designated hitter rule, a concept long overdue for the scrap pile.
Secondly, there are possible flaws within the new wild-card system, mainly the one-game playoff, or play-in, as some prefer to call it.
Under the old format, the lone wild card in each league would proceed to play the highest-seeded team as soon as the postseason arrived. Now, two wild cards from each league will go to a one-game playoff, with the winners advancing to play their respective No. 1 seeds in the Division Series.
Seems a tad crazy to play 162 games and determine the wild-card winner in a one-game showdown.
But that’s also what makes the whole idea intriguing.
If you don’t win your division, you should have to claw your way to the top, starting with a one-game free-for-all against a possible inferior or superior opponent. An opponent that will likely start their staff ace, or possibly even a dominant closer, just to win a one-game series, instead of saving their top pitcher to start the divisional round if they advance.
Some have suggested that the wild cards go best out of three, but the main reason for the one-game playoff is to keep teams from “settling” for a wild-card spot instead of trying to win their division at all costs.
Sounds smart to me.
Put the pressure on from the beginning of the season. Win your division and you’re in the playoffs for at least a best-of-five series. Win a wild-card spot and good luck with that.
Bottom line: Attendance is soaring, TV ratings are up for MLB on FOX, and there a number of teams fighting for their playoff lives with a week to go in the season.
September baseball has never looked so good.
Jeff Sauer is a longtime western Colorado resident and former Roaring Fork Valley resident. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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