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Monday, September 17, 2012

The Problems of the Second Wild Card

In case you don’t know, I have several problems with the latest Collective Bargaining Agreement. Most of the draft and international free agent changes and restrictions are bad enough, but the second wild card in each league was an unnecessary and ridiculous change to something that not only didn’t need fixing, but which actually affects the quality of the game at the Major League level.

My argument had many parts. The first was that this was obviously an attempt to cash in on last season’s final day drama. That plan overlooks several things, the biggest being that part of why the end of the 2011 season was great was that it’s such a rare occurrence. Additionally, it was great because of the long set-up. The longer the build-up to the event, the bigger the emotional payoff. If the Rays and Cardinals had come back from, say, 2 games back with a month left, the end of the season would have been great. But because they were so far back, it only added to the excitement of the moment.

Also, if you make the postseason a tournament, having four teams just made sense. An eight team tournament just works out logistically. There’s no need for byes or short toss up games. And the four team format was good at getting the best teams in; the wild card team was, generally speaking, the third best team in the league. There wasn’t really a need to punish the wild card because they were already better than at least one division winner, on average.

The second wild card on average would be the fifth best team, in contrast. I think there’s a good argument for letting in a team that’s better than at least one division winner, but that wouldn’t be the case with a second wild card.

This year’s Wild Card race seems to exemplify all of those negatives. Take the National League: it currently fits the former normal wild card set up. Cincinnati, Washington, and San Francisco lead their divisions by quite a bit, Atlanta has a better record than San Francisco (by half a game right now), and second Wild Card St. Louis would be seven games back from the old Wild Card slot.*

*Granted, their expected won-loss record puts them just behind Cincinnati, but that’s a different story. I would imagine they’re much closer to Atlanta in quality than their true record states, though.

Now, though, Atlanta will need to win a one-game playoff to “prove” that they’re better than the team they lead by seven games. That just seems ridiculous.

The AL was arguably the reason why the second Wild Card was added, with the strong East and West. However, it’s showing the problem in a different way. Three Wild Card slots have a better record than the Central-leading White Sox, with the possibility that the Rays add to that list. In their attempt to make things more fair by adding more ways into the playoffs, they overlooked one of the major problems.

Basically, the divisions and schedules aren’t well-enough balanced. The East and West are being unfairly punished by scheduling extra games against the best teams (in the East and West) and having to pass those better teams. However, those two Wild Cards with better records will need to "prove" they're more worthy of a playoff spot (with an extra game) than the leader of the Central division, despite quite possibly being 3 to 5 games better in the standings. This just sounds like poor planning.

Oh well. Such is Bud Selig’s way.

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