There hasn't been a Wild Card postseason game yet. But you probably already have opinions about the new format. You might not like how a hot month can turn also-rans like the Phillies and Brewers into surprise contenders. Or, that might be the best thing in the world to you -- a little late-season surge in interest and relevance that wouldn't have existed before.
But what about the races we're missing? If the second wild card didn't exist, what kind of races would there be?
When it comes to the National League, we're not missing anything. The Braves would have run away with the wild card last month. All the second wild card is doing in the N.L. is giving the Cardinals a chance at a World Series they probably shouldn't have had a shot at. You know, like the last two they've won. Unless the Cardinals give back the karma they snorted in 2011, allowing the Dodgers to roar back, nothing's been gained or lost from an excitement standpoint.
The American League, though, is different. Going into play on Monday, the standings for just one wild card would have looked like this:
Rangers - 93-66 (leading division)
Baltimore - 92-67
New York - 92-67
Oakland - 91-68
Tampa would have been eliminated already, as would have Los Angeles of Anaheim.
It still would have been exciting, for sure. But there would have been two problems:
1. Oakland would have needed help from either the Red Sox or Rays in the final series, whereas under the current format, they control their own fate.
2. With an Oakland loss or two, the O's and Yankees would suddenly care a whole lot less about who wins the East.
And that's the trade-off, right there. Does your distaste for teams like the Cardinals getting an extra shot (or the Brewers and Phillies pretending they'll have one) outweigh the meaningful divisional titles? If the O's, A's, and Yankees all won out, the division title in the N.L. East would have be decided by a tiebreaker, and even then, no one would have cared. The difference would have been an extra home playoff game -- significant, but not devastating. Now, the second wild card means the division winner goes to the playoffs, and the wild-card winners go to a one-game freak show.
I come down on the side of the second wild card. I never thought I'd write that. Your mileage may vary.
And, you, in the back, yelling about the old divisional format. Lets take a look at what that would look like for yuks (assuming the Brewers still switched leagues):
If we're going by the old format, meaning no wild cards, there would be two compelling races right now -- the same ones that are going on in the AL.
If we're picking two wild cards (for a total of four playoff berths in each league), there would be two compelling races right now -- the same ones in the AL, again. But unlike the old divisional format, the divisions wouldn't mean anything with the additions of the extra wild cards.
For this season, at least, the new format has it. Not to mention that we can get all sorts of wacky ties and tiebreakers for the tiebreakers of the play-in games for the playoffs. In another season -- say, with two teams racing toward 100 wins without the safety net of the wild card -- the old format would have been more exciting, albeit with fewer interested teams and fan bases. The new format, though, is doing quite well for itself in its first season.
It's October 1, and there isn't a team in the American League with a division title wrapped up, and all of the teams at the top are still in some kind of danger of missing the playoffs entirely. It's played out pretty well for Selig and crew so far. Check back when there's a four-way tie.