With the grueling 162-game season and the agonizingly long MLB postseason, four lucky teams will play yet another game in pursuit of a championship title. Put into effect as of this upcoming 2012 season, one wildcard team will be added to each league with a one-game playoff pending their participation in the regular eight-team pool of contenders.
Up to this point, if a team garnered the second best record in league behind the division leaders, they immediately faced off against the team with the best record in the league in the first round best of five. This was the case with 2011’s eventual champion St. Louis Cardinals. Making the playoffs on the final day of the regular season, the Cardinals beat the powerhouse Philadelphia Phillies in five games of the NLDS to advance to the NLCS. Lined up against Milwaukee, the Cards disposed of the Brew Crew in short order and went on to beat the Rangers in seven games of the Fall Classic to win their second title in six years.
If this new rule was in place, the Cardinals would have had to face off against the struggling Braves in a one-game series to determine who would advance. Seeing that the Braves couldn’t beat a little league team with the disappearance of their hitting skills, all the cards would have probably have fallen in the same place.
This year, who will be the lucky two? With a sport that’s full of three-game, five-game and seven-game series throughout the year, how will the world react to the one-game win-or-go-home game? I love it. It is like guaranteeing two game sevens every year. 162 games are not enough to decide their fate.
At the same time, it is fair for all parties involved. The teams that won their division have the luxury of resting their best arms while those fighting for a playoff bid will use all that they have to fight another day. Even if they win, they will have used up their best arm in the rotation and be one step behind the opposition entering the division series. This is exciting stuff.
The reality is this: the two teams that enter that strange game will have national coverage for one game of excitement while playing in front of a sell-out crowd. Also, the two teams will most likely have very similar records and both are suited for the playoffs. I am tired of seeing 90-win teams get shafted for playing in such a strong division. This rule will prove its worth for teams such as the Rays, Yankees and Red Sox and the Rangers and Angels.
In the NL, teams from the Central and East will be licking their chops in hopes of grabbing that extra spot. With the Phillies winning every year, the new-look Marlins, hungry Braves and rising Nationals will fight for contention.
I would love to see three teams from the same division make the playoffs. If the Yankees, Rays and Red Sox each finish the year with 95 wins, they should all be allowed the opportunity. If the division-winning team out of the NL West only has 85 wins, a 93-win team from the Central should get the postseason nod as well.
With Pujols and Wilson being added to the Angels and the Rangers playing at a consistently high level, one of those teams will win the division and the other will be in the wild one-game series. Joining them will be one of the big three from the AL East. In the NL, the Marlins might not have enough to overcome the Phillies just yet, but they will face one the six teams in the Central.
I see the new wildcard slot benefitting all teams. It will give clubs more to fight for in the final games and leaves two of the most exciting games of the year to start the postseason.