Sunday, September 27, 2009

The case against baseball's wild card

Those of us who do not like the Wild Card in baseball have another chance to speak up about it this week.

There are fans who are complaining because teams with the records of the Tigers and Twins are fighting for first place. For a while in August, it was looking as though the A L Central winner might not finish better than .500. It could wind up being about 86 wins.

It doesn't matter. We have 2 teams fighting down to a head-to-head series during the final week of the season. The winner goes to the playoffs as Division champs, while the second place team goes home and waits until next year. I'm here to remind you that is how it is supposed to be in every division every season.

Finishing in first place requires only one more victory than the second place team. Whether it takes 82 or 110 victories. Thank goodness that the A L Central runner-up goes home. The upcoming series is must win for both teams. It could be considered a playoff series when you think about it.

Suppose the Tigers and Twins each had won 94+ games, and both teams were ahead of the records of the 2 other second place teams in the American League. If that were the case, this showdown series would only be for playoff position. Not must win at all. Moving the pitching rotation around for the post-season. Not wanting to risk injury if a game becomes one-sided. And not having to go all out, win or go home. Unfortunately, that scenario has already happened since MLB stuck us with the wild card in the mid-90's.

Worse yet this season is that the A L Central is the only real race, out of 6 possibilities, as we enter the final week of the season. There is a very good chance that neither Wild Card team in post-season will finish within 5 games of the first place team in their division. Five games?

If there are no other serious division races, how can a team that far behind be rewarded with a post-season berth?

Nothing against the Red Sox, but losing those series to the Yankees a month ago was fair and square and put the Yankees up by a wide margin. I'm sure some fans will argue the point that the Wild Card gives teams a "second chance". I never knew that sports was about a "second chance". So give them 3 extra outs in the final game of the series. No, you say that is wrong? It would be a "second chance". What's the difference?

After thinking and thinking, I have found 2 consolation positives about the Wild Card for this season. One, I already pointed out, is that the one division race still remaining is win or go home and not for playoff position. The other is that since the Wild Card team is so far out of first place, we were not stuck with the usual media hype about which team will be the Wild Card and the treatment of that "race" as if a first place title is on the line.

This has been an outrage several times over the years. Final weeks when division titles are at stake, and instead the focus is equal to or greater than that about which team will be the Wild Card. The team that gets a second chance.

Football, basketball, and hockey have had too many teams (as in teams not finishing in first place) making the playoffs for years, with the NFL being the last of those 3 to cave in stating with the 1977 season. A team contending for the championship should have to win in order to win. Winning should include first place, not second. What a shame baseball went to this system.

Even worse, because of the TV contracts and the money from TV and ticket sales, we are stuck, at least for the time being.

I'm not big on expansion, either, but I would rather see the American League add 2 more teams quickly. That would give both leagues 16 teams. Realign into 4 divisions for 4 teams each. All you need to do is have the division winner with the best overall record meet the winner (should be in capital letters) with the least amount of victories in the first round, and then meet the winner of the 2 vs. 3 series. What a concept! All first place teams playing for the ultimate championship.

Then baseball would lead the way once again.

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