While the addition of a second wild card to the Major League Baseball playoffs last season was absolutely another progressive idea, the do-or-die aspect of the one-game wild-card round may rear its ugly head again this October.
Beginning with the obvious positives, under the old one wild card format, the currently-stacked American League race for the final postseason slot between Baltimore, Cleveland, Kansas City, New York and Tampa Bay would barely exist. Until the Texas Rangers recent skid, the second place AL West team would’ve likely grabbed the lone wild card and rendered all else anti-climactic.
Ditto for the Indians, who though still struggling mightily to draw fans for some reason, have not finished above .500 since 2007, yet are on pace for nearly 90 wins. Statistically, we’re told Cleveland has a strong chance to reach the postseason for the first time in six years.
The story of potential back-to-back playoff appearances for the Orioles — whose last winning year before 2012 was 1997 — would be great.
And to keep the national (northeast) media’s interest, the Yankees are still very much alive despite a subpar season by their lofty standards.
In the National League, the appeal is obvious.
Pittsburgh guaranteed its first winning campaign in more than two decades Monday night, and the Pirates have been a playoff lock for weeks. But without the second wild card addition, they could be on the verge of no October baseball for the 21st consecutive autumn. This due to an equally-stellar 2013 from the venerable Cardinals and Reds.
It’s comforting to know that if a division runner-up wins 90 games (ala Boston and Atlanta in 2011), they can still play in October. They’ve earned it.
So the extra wild card continues the trend of good decisions for America’s pastime. But that’s where the trouble also lies.
No sport has made more wise changes (immensely popular interleague play, divisional and league realignment, the aforementioned postseason format tweaks, cutting back playoff days off, minor use of instant replay, etc) than MLB the past 20 years. And since the success of said changes is shown via the game’s incredible popularity, the game should make one more change.
Baseball should allow the two wild card teams — who play nearly .600 ball for 162 long games — play a series, at least two of three. One game is not enough.
Baseball has the shortest postseason in professional sports, and the World Series legitimately went until the first day November just once. (And if it did again, who cares? That’s just two teams competing on the ultimate stage, whereas all 30 play in early April when temperatures are actually colder than in the fall.)
Maybe if, unfortunately, the best baseball story of 2013 (Pittsburgh) is forced to play a one-game road “play-in” game, loses, and their great, long-suffering fans are denied October baseball at the world’s finest ballpark, Bud Selig will (again) make a change to benefit fans and players alike.
I trust baseball will. It’s the sport most known for adjusting.