Seriously, the Wild Card game is obviously extremely entertaining. All do-or-die situations are. It’s the NFL’s biggest advantage over the other sports given their postseason format. One game decides a team’s fate.
But it has no place in baseball. MLB’s heart was in the right place in adding another dimension —and more importantly another team— to the postseason proceedings— but it is an absolutely offensive inconsistency to the marathon nature of the game. (Not to mention, actual games are marathons. A pitching clock can’t come soon enough!)
A friendly reminder: the regular season is 162 games. 162! That’s way too long, but it is what it is. That’s a lot of plane rides and late nights for everyone involved. To be exhausted by August is perfectly natural.
But that’s sports. If you’re too tired to keep going, you push forward anyway. That’s what the best athletes in the world do. It’s what they’re paid to do.
Even still, having a a seven month expedition come down to one single night is simply illogical. Right, Spock?
For the time being, though, it does. There’s nothing we can do about it. But the affect it has on the postseason picture is more bad than good.
Like I said at the top, the Wild Card game is extreme fun. That is, unless you’re a part of it. The stakes are rightfully sky high, especially for the home team, who are 4-8 in the six years that the one-game playoff has existed.
That number was a startling 2-8 before the hosting New York Yankees and Arizona Diamondbacks both won this year at their home ballparks.
The drama of the win or go home hasn’t been worth the after effect it has on the participants. Outside of the extreme outlier Royals and Giants in 2014, who both reached the World Series, over half of the Wild Card winners have been eliminated in the Divisional Series.
Simple logic deduces that the Wild Card team is expected to fall in the Divisional Series to a team that won their division. But a Wild Card winner often has a better record than the third-best League division winner, though eliminating the divisional structure is something baseball is far away from doing. (The NBA on the other hand, is looking at shaking things up...mainly because of their extreme lack of parity, but anyway...)
In the case of this season, where the final eight teams were considered as balanced as ever, the Diamondbacks were eliminated by the Los Angeles Dodgers before the series even began.
The Dodgers, despite scuffling the past month, were the favorites, but bypassing the theatrics of the one-game Wild Card round certainly benefited them. Arizona, on the other hand, played an exasperating Wild Card game against the Colorado Rockies and looked like they were still in the previous round during their three-game NLDS stint vs. the Dodgers.
In truth, the Wild Card game could have had zero effect on the Diamondbacks. But the fact is, in previous incarnations of the MLB Playoffs, their six game advantage over the Rockies (that they built up over 162 games) would have seen them go directly to L.A. to face the Dodgers.
Zack Greinke would have never been needed to pitch against Colorado, instead taking the hill in game one against the Boys in Blue. The bullpen wouldn’t have had to expend any energy in relieving him and the batting lineup would be watching film instead of playing a game for all the marbles.
The specifics of the game aren’t even my problem with it. At the end of the day, these are grown men and the Wild Card game is in the rules. But the procedural ineptitude of having 162 games come down to a single game in any circumstance is just bogus.
The NFL has this format with 16 games. The NBA and NHL each play 82 games and don’t dare let one game decide a team’s fate.
In hindsight (sweet, easy, beautiful hindsight), Arizona’s season was over after defeating the Rockies. Thankfully, the Yankees have stormed back against the Cleveland Indians after it looked like a Wild Card matchup against the Minnesota Twins had cost them a chance at upsetting Cleveland in the ALDS.
In my next piece, I’ll roll over a simple solution on how to keep the Wild Card game —because I do like involving more teams in the postseason— and all its network drama while maintaining the integrity of the grueling and frankly, ridiculously long, baseball season.