August 22, 2002

Pennant Races and Wild Cards

Rob Neyer wrote a good column yesterday about the 3-way battle going on in the AL West.

He talked about how great it is to wake up in the morning and look in the paper (or on a website) and see, as you would have today:

American League West

Anaheim 75 50 .600 -

Oakland 76 51 .598 -

Seattle 76 51 .598 -

And I agree, nothing beats that.

Well, almost nothing.

For this to truly be a compelling race, like say the 1993 NL West, the team or teams that did not finish in 1st place would have to actually not make the playoffs.

As it is now, with the Wild Card, the loser of this division race will likely end up getting into post season play as the Wild Card.

So, instead of 3 teams fighting for 1 spot in the playoffs, we have 3 teams fighting for 2 spots in the playoffs.

Kinda takes a little bit of the drama out of it doesn't it?

Which brings me to the Wild Card.

First of all, I am 20 years old, so I don't think I could be considered "old school" or a "purist."

That said, I do not like the Wild Card.

I realize that, as this point, it is here to stay.

I could actually see Budzilla adding even more teams to the post season in the future.

But, I still don't like it.

It was nice that Oakland was able to be in the playoffs last season after winning 102 games and finishing 14 games back of Seattle.

And it was fun to see Pedro and the Red Sox in the 1999 playoffs after finishing 4 back of New York.

And the 1999 Subway Series was great and was made possible by the Mets winning the Wild Card after finishing 6.5 games below Atlanta.

Heck, the Florida Marlins were the Wild Card in 1997 and the ended up winning the World Series.

But unless I am missing something, those are pretty much the best things the Wild Card has given us.

And what has it taken away?

Well, a lot...

Not including this season, there have been at least 8 good, old-fashioned division races that were ruined:

In 1995 the Colorado Rockies won the Wild Card after finishing 1 game back of Los Angeles.

In 1996 the Dodgers won the WC after finishing 1 game behind of San Diego.

And that same year, the Baltimore Orioles won the Wild Card after they finished 4 games below New York.

In 1997 the Yankees won the WC after finishing 2 games back of Baltimore.

In 1999 the Red Sox won the WC, finishing 4 games behind of New York.

In 2000 the New York Mets won the WC after finishing 1 game worse than Atlanta.

And that same year, over in the AL, the Mariners won the WC after finishing 1/2 a game behind Oakland in the AL West.

How did they finish 1/2 a game behind?

Well, they had the Wild Card to fall back on, so they didn't even care about trying to win the division, thus Oakland didn't even have to play the final game!

Last season, the Cardinals and Astros finished tied for the division lead in the NL Central, both at 93-69.

No one bothered playing a 1 game playoff, because they both made the post season, one as the division winner and one as the WC winner.

And this year?

Well, it will likely take away what would have been a pretty great 3 way race to the AL West division crown.

Instead one team will win it, and another will get in the playoffs by finishing 2nd.

Instead of Seattle having to battle to finish ahead of Oakland and Anaheim in order to make the playoffs, the just need to manage to beat one of them.

I understand wanting to allow more than 2 teams from each league into the post season, but don't do it at the expense of one of baseball's greatest things, the true Pennant Race.

Maybe expand to 32 teams (see, I told you I'm not an "old school" "purist") and make 8 4-team divisions, 4 in each league.

The 8 division winners would be the teams in the playoffs.

That might not be the best solution, but I know it is better than waking up in the morning and seeing:

American League West

Anaheim 75 50 .600 -

Oakland 76 51 .598 -

Seattle 76 51 .598 -

Followed by:

American League Wild Card

Anaheim 75 50 .600 -

Oakland 76 51 .598 -

Seattle 76 51 .598 -

Boston 71 53 .573 3.5

Where is the fun in that?

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