I am not a fan of MLB’s Wild Card setup. I value what the Wild Card offers to MLB and its fans. Prior to the days of Divisional Play, a runaway team like the current edition of the Chicago Cubs who enjoy a 12.5 game lead over the St. Louis Cardinals, would make the rest of the season be one of a real lack of interest, unless of course you were a Cubs fan.
The 1967 version of the St. Louis Cardinals won the NL Pennant, prior to Divisional Play, by 10.5 games over the second place San Francisco Giants.
For St. Louis fans, this was great! For the rest of the NL teams, the season was pretty much of a non-event. In the AL, in 1967, there was a real Pennant Race, full of surprise and mystery, as the Boston Red Sox’s won their respective Pennant by just 1 game over the second place Detroit Tigers. The Cardinals won the 1967 World Series over Boston four games to three.
In 1968, the last year prior to the advent of Divisional Play, found run away Pennant victories in both Leagues. In the AL, the Tigers won the Pennant by a margin of twelve games over the second place Baltimore Orioles. In the Senior Circuit, the Redbirds won the Pennant by a margin of 9 games over the Giants. Detroit won the 1968 WS four games to three.
If it is not your team, it is hard to remain interested and involved in a runaway baseball season. My Cubs’ friends are having the time of their lives; with their massive lead. If this was the pre-Divisional Era of Baseball, most of the rest of the league would be possibly less enthused.
With the current system of six Divisions among the AL and NL’s, coupled with the additional four Wild Card Teams, there are a minimum of ten teams, and quite possibly an additional five other teams who are vying to represent their respective League in the 2016 World Series.
Fifteen teams! Fifteen possible candidates to claim the title of MLB’s 2016 World Series Champions! As a baseball junkie, I am able to forgo my displeasure with the current Wild Card system and look forward to an exciting “stretch drive”. In the spirit of full disclosure, my concern with the current Wild Card set-up is the “One and Done”. The so-called “Play-in Game”. This, in reality, is a “Play-Out Game”.
I believe the “One and Done” would be better served as a short best three out of five series. In its current incarnation, the “Play-in Game” forces a manager to consider wasting his best pitcher for what may or not be an opportunity to move on to the next level, or round, of the Playoffs. If the team is successful, you cannot use your Ace again until at least the third game of the respective Division Series. I feel a best three out of five series for the current “One and Done” would be accepted by both the fans as well as the players who are looking to move on to the ultimate goal, with the ultimate glory, the World Series Trophy.
At the end of play on Wednesday, the three AL Division Leaders, the Toronto Blue Jays, Cleveland Indians, and Texas Rangers, as well as the Boston Red Sox who hold a +1.0 lead over the Baltimore Orioles who are currently in the second Wild Card spot have legitimate shots, along with the Seattle Mariners (2.0 games out of the second Wild Card spot) and the Detroit Tigers (3.5 behind in the second Wild Card race) to represent the AL in the 2016 World Series.
In the NL, Division Leaders-the Washington Nationals, Chicago Cubs, and Los Angeles Dodgers, along with the San Francisco Giants who are +2.0 in the 1st Wild Card and the St. Louis Cardinals who are currently holding the 2nd Wild Card, as well as the Pittsburgh Pirates (1 game out of the 2nd Wild Card) the Miami Marlins (2 games out of the 2nd Wild Card) and the New York Mets (4 games out of the 2nd Wild card) all are contenders for World Series play.
A reality of Divisional Play as well as a reality of the four Wild Cards is whichever team gets hot at the opportune time is quite capable of going on to, and winning, the World Series.
Cardinal fans remember the magical run of the 2011 Redbirds. The Milwaukee Brewers won the Central Division with a record of 96-66, and finished 6 games in front of the Cardinals. The Birds on the Bat won the sole NL Wild Card with a record of 90-72.
The Cardinals defeated their then NL Central rivals (now AL Central) Houston Astros on the last day of the 2011 season. On that same day, September 28th, the Atlanta Braves (89-73) lost to the Philadelphia Phillies (102-60). The Cardinal win and the Braves loss gave the NL Wild Card to St. Louis.
In the two 2011 NL Divisional Series, the Central Division winning Brewers met the West Division Champions Arizona Diamondbacks (94-68). The Brewers beat the D-Backs three games to two. The Cardinals met the NL East Division Champion Phillies (102-60). The Cardinals won the 2011 NLDS 3-2. The Cards went on to meet the Brewers in the NLCS, beating Milwaukee four games to two. Moving on to the 2011 World Series the Cardinals took four games out of seven against the AL Champions Texas Rangers.
The St. Louis Cardinals who finished in 2nd place in the NL Central Division six games behind the Brewers by the virtue of winning the NL Wild Card, with a tad bit of luck, and getting hot at an extremely opportune time, were the 2011 World Champions. Twelve wins, just twelve time sensitive wins, brought a World Series title to St. Louis.
This is what is good about the current MLB alignment. Divisional Play, the Wild Card factor, and the fact that fifteen current MLB teams have a legitimate chance as we head into September of being the Champions of the World.
Baseball is the best game on God’s Green Earth! Here’s to what should shape up to be an exciting couple of months of September and October baseball!
Thanks for reading!
Jim Tsapelas is a featured writer at Baseball Thirty.