The strategy of a second Wild Card team

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Posada's Place In Yankees History

The final game of the 2011 season was one for the ages. Using no starting pitchers or really any Major League relievers, the Yanks blew a big lead to the Tampa Bay Rays while the Red Sox coughed up a ninth-inning lead over the Orioles. The Rays made the playoffs while Boston completed a historic September swoon. In the NL, the eventual World Series winners shut out the Astros as the Phillies downed the Braves, and Atlanta too blew a seemingly insurmountable late-season lead that proved to be anything but that. Next year or the year after, those Game 162 losses would have been meaningless.

As we all know, MLB has decided to expand the playoffs by adding a second Wild Card team. The second-place club with the second best record will square off in a one-game playoff against the second-place club with the best record in a contest that will determine who advances to the ALDS. This year, the Braves and Red Sox would have played the Cardinals and Rays respectively no matter the outcome of Game 162. Some says it cheapens the regular season while allowing competitive teams to take a crack at the crown while others say it adds the excitement two Game 163s to every baseball season. Either way, it changes late-season strategy.

Right now, according to a report in Sports Business Journal, MLB is attempting to decide when to add the extra playoff team. The owners and players would love to see the new format in 2012 because it means more money for all, but timing is tight. The owners meet this week, and if they can’t figure out the TV and scheduling logistics for this season before March 1, the new format will have to wait until 2013.

According to Eric Fisher and John Ourand, two items may hold up the extra game. First, the games must be assigned to a TV network. As Turner holds the rights to all Game 163s and the League Division Series, it appears as though they would be the ones to air the so-called play-in. Next, MLB must fit in another game before the start of the Division Series two days after the regular season ends. Perhaps I’ll finally get my wish of a more condensed playoff schedule. As sticking points go, though, these two are hardly major obstacles, and it’s likely that we’ll see a new playoff format this year.

So how then does this impact the regular season? For one, the second place teams will play simply for one of the top two records. There will be fewer win-or-go-home scenarios. In 2011, for instances, the Angels were four games behind the Red Sox, and the Giants were three games behind the Braves. The Wild Card play-in contests would have been set days earlier, and teams would have been prepared for the new contest.

Next, managers will have to assess their starting rotations. To win a Game 163, would the Wild Card managers try to line up their aces, knowing that another round of the playoffs awaits a day or two later? They have to sacrifice an edge in the next round to simply make it there, thus further rewarding the division winner. It might not be far to the Wild Card team, but it adds more than just one home game to the division winner’s advantage.

That, then, is the new baseball world in which we live. Ten of 30 teams will play more than 162 games, and late-season strategies will shift. Winning the division will become even more important, but Yankee fans wouldn’t have it any other way now, would they?

New/Old Feature: Team Blogs Page
Posada's Place In Yankees History
  • Matt DiBari

    I don’t like the extra wild card.

    But anything that might prevent a repeat of September 2010 Chad Gaudin-a-palooza can’t be all bad.

  • Freddy Garcia’s 86 mph Heat

    My problem with the whole 2nd wild card thing is if you have a team like the 2001 A’s – who won 102 games, but were in the same division as one of the greatest teams in MLB history. They would have to play the 86 win Minnesota Twins with the potential of a team that was 14 games worse knocking them out of the playoffs. To make the 2nd WC the best, they need to get rid of divisions and have the top 5 records make it to the playoffs with the 4 and 5 teams playing a one game playoff, or keep divisions and create a truly balanced schedule, meaning no IL play, and each team would play each other the same number of times, and the 5 best records would go with the 4 and 5 playing in the one game playoff. Of course, in an ideal world, I’d like to see a 7 game LDS, but that’ll never happen…

    • Maris61

      You’re correct. That is the major flaw. Eventually we will have a 2001-type situation. Fans will jump up and down but the owners won’t care as long as the moola keeps flowing in.

      I totally agree with your set-up. No divisions with a balanced schedule and take the top 5 in each league.

  • dkidd

    why does baseball aspire to be hockey?

    • Maris61

      …and basketball.

      • MattG

        Wasn’t it your recommendation above to make it like basketball, with no division play and ranks?

        Division play is very important. Finishing first is very important for an entire fan base. I am not a Twins or A’s fan, but I can guarantee you those fan bases feel like they’ve won things. If they were basketball teams, they would have no such sense of accomplishment, because you don’t feel accomplished by getting the second seed.

        • Maris61

          I am referring to the number of teams in the postseason.

  • Russell

    Question: Is the second wild card the second best second place team or the team with the second best record that did not reach the playoffs? If it is the former Tampa plays Boston. If it is the latter, it would have been Rays versus Angels.

    • the Other Steve S.


      • Chris

        All they are doing is moving the spotlight down a rung on the ladder. MLB can’t figure out how to make the regular season crown a race so they conceded and added another playoff spot. Is MLB seriously comfortable with putting average teams with average TV ratings in the national spotlight? Who the hell cares if Atlanta had to play St.Louis for the right to move on??? Atlanta can’t sell out even when the playoffs are on the line! I’m sure the ratings will be through the roof for Rays vs Twins at 8:26 on Thursday night. Gime a break! Its a Joke!

    • Yazman

      Did anyone answer this?

      Given the strength of the AL East, adding a second 2nd place team (rather than the top-2 non-division winners) could further hurt the Yankees.

  • Eduardo

    The Wild Card teams are in the postseason, playing in the Wild Card playoff, or whatever they’ll call it. They are not playing “game 163,” so Turner really doesn’t own them. (Game 163s should still be possible now to determine the two Wild Card teams.) That’s an important distinction. MLB can bid out the new postseason round.

  • RobC

    IN his 1987 essay “99 Reasons Baseball is Better Than Fotball” Thomas Boswell wrote :

    #44. – Wild cards. If baseball can stick with four divisional champs out of 26 teams, why does the NFL need to invite 10 of its 28 to the prom? Could it be that football isn’t terribly interesting unless your team can still “win it all”?

    maybe he should write a new essay “99 ways MLB has been FUBAR since my last essay”

  • Jose M. Vazquez..

    I hear that they will be playing baseball in November if a seventh game of the WS is needed. For us fans the longer the season the better. Baseball, however, was not made to be played in the cold. A lot of performers don’t do as well in the cold

    • Maris61

      Baseball’s version of “The Winter Classic”.

  • Wil Nieves Number 1 Fan

    I was happy when MLB decided to ditch the stupid rule that prevented division rivals from playing each other in the Division Series, but the ‘expanded’ Wild Card is garbage. A one-game-anything in the playoffs is just a terrible idea.

  • Chris

    The extra wild card is the worst idea MLB has ever had.

    • Craig Maduro

      Actually, it’s at least one half step behind determining World Series home-field advantage based on the All-Star game. I still wish someone with some pull would flex some balls and kill that ridiculous rule. That is arguably the single dumbest move by any sports league over the past decade.

  • CJ

    The strategy is don’t be a wild card team. In AL this will be 2 of yanks sox rays angels rangers playing 1 game. It will be as fair and predictable as a coin toss.

  • MattG

    I think of it this way: It is not another play-off team. There are three fully vested teams, and two that earn a chance to become the fourth fully-vested team. I see in many places where allowing the fifth-best team into the playoffs is supposed to cheapen the post-season. This would be true, except they can’t get fully in without eliminating the fourth-best team, so how much does that cheapen it, really?

    What it does do is prevent a 2010 Yankees-Rays pennant race, which was revolting, and maintain seasonal play. If .500 playoff team (the Broncos) can eliminate a .750 playoff team (the Steelers) in the greatest sport ever known and it’s a great story, somehow I think baseball can survive if one wildcard upsets another.