Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Will Extra Wild Card Restore Order?

Since major league baseball added the "wild card" to the post season mix in 1995, ten different "wild card" teams have advanced to the World Series in those seventeen seasons; five of them managed to capture the World Championship:  The '97 Florida Marlins, the 2002 California/LA/Anaheim Angels, the 2003 Marlins, the 2004 Boston Red Sox, and the 2011 St Louis Cardinals.

For the Cardinals, last year's World Championship was the eleventh in franchise history, and their first as a "wild card" entrant; likewise, the 2004 Red Sox not only won their first World Series as a "wild card" entrant, their stunning ALCS comeback against the New York Yankees - winning four straight games after trailing 3 games to none - propelled them to an easy four game sweep of the Cardinals in the World Series; ending the historic Curse of the Bambino in the process.

For the Marlins, the only time they've ever won the World Series came in those two "wild card" seasons; likewise, the Halos have only appeared in the Fall Classic that one "wild card" season, and with a little help from the Rally Monkey, captured their one and only championship since the franchise came into existence over 50 years ago (1961).

Clearly, "wild card" teams have had little trouble prevailing over higher seeded teams in advancing to the World Series; and thanks to the luck of the draw, four out of the five "wild card" World Series champions had the all-important home-field advantage when playing for all the marbles.  The only "wild card" team to overcome home-field "disadvantage" were those pesky 2003 Marlins, who handled the seemingly invincible Yankees in six games.  

Strangely enough, the Yankees have had their share of "wild card" trouble over the years; aside from that upset at the hands of those '03 Marlins, the Bronx Bombers have been bounced from the post season by the 2002 Angels, those '04 Red Sox, and the '06 "wild card" Detroit Tigers.  Of course, the Yankees were the original American League "wild card" edition back in '95, but they failed to get past an inspired Seattle Mariners team in a truly classic five game ALDS; capped off by Edgar Martinez' clutch two-run double which plated a jubilant Ken Griffey, Jr with the deciding run.

Many baseball purists despise the entire concept of allowing "wild card" teams into the post season to begin with.  It's "unfair", they contend, to give marginally talented teams an opportunity to eliminate superior teams in a short, five game series; or even a slightly longer, seven game series.  To make matters worse for these purists is the shocking reality that 50% of those lucky, talent-less "wild cards" have had the audacity to win the World Series (through 2011)!

For those wishing to have order restored in the world of post season baseball, there is good news:  Each league will add one more "wild card" into the mix.  Theoretically, ten teams will now enter the post season with a chance to win the World Series.  However, one of those "wild card" teams will have their hopes dashed in one fell swoop - a one game playoff between the "wild cards" quickly brings the total of World Series hopefuls back down to eight.  However, the surviving "wild cards" will be facing much longer odds in their attempt to continue advancing in the post season; after all, that one game victory over their fellow "wild cards" means a less favorable pitching rotation when the league division series begins.  It won't be impossible for "wild card" teams to prosper in the post season; but it will be extremely difficult.  It could be a long, long time before we see a repeat of what the St Louis Cardinals pulled off last year.

For those wishing to see the odds stacked back in favor of teams that win division titles, this expanded playoff picture should do the trick.  Only time will tell, but it seems as though the extra "wild cards" should restore order in major league baseball.

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