The current system is unfair. The Red Sox and Yankees are the two biggest teams in baseball, in the same division. The Blue Jays, Orioles and Rays get screwed twice. Each plays those teams 38 times, good for the box office but bad for competition. They also must compete with those teams in the standings. One of those teams can play very well, be by all accounts the third best team in the AL and miss the playoffs.
If fairness was the primary concern, alleviating the two inequities would be simple. Move back to single-table leagues, balance the schedule and take the top four. Opportunities are open. The Red Sox and Yankees become everyone’s burden.
Adding the second wild card improves the lost clubs’ lots slightly. A third team from the AL East can make the playoffs, but the real value is it enhances the importance of division races.
Theoretically, the wild card enhances excitement for more teams, but in practice the wild card kills at least one potentially exciting division race. There’s little competitive advantage to winning the division, only home-field, which is less critical in baseball than in others sports.
Three games back in September with the wild card secure, the Red Sox are setting their rotation for the playoffs and trying to stay healthy. That decisive four-game set Fox and ESPN start hyping to death is pointless. The fans know it and the players play like it.
With a second wild card, the wild card now must play an extra, one-off game to make the playoffs. Even if they make it, they must burn their best starter and their bullpen to get there. The division winner’s route is assured. The wild card winner’s is perilous. Teams will gun for the division to the end.
September races at the top become more intense. By adding the extra two slots, more teams are involved. It also gives the two play-in games, which, like the Minnesota-Detroit one a few years ago, would be enthralling. The second wild card would make MLB more competitive and more compelling while getting more teams involved. Hard to see how that could be a bad thing.
[Photo via Getty]