The Wild Card.
I am so tired of hearing all this "Red Sox Nation is in a state of Panic" stuff. It is not true over here at least. Not only to I dislike the unoriginal phrasing of "Red Sox Nation," but I also understand that this team has a seven game lead over that final American League playoff spot. This is a large downside to the Wild Card fellas. It has always been. To the casual fan the Wild Card brings hope, it increases the odds that a team can make the playoffs. And it increases revenue, I would think anyway, for Major League Baseball.
Just imagine if there was no Wild Card and the AL East was in the same position as it currently is. These final ten games would come with an endless amount of excitement. But for example: Do you think Francona leaves Gagne in with 2 outs and the bases loaded in the 8th when they could have gone to Papelbon, asking him to get only one extra out? Because I sure don’t. It would have been bad management had the game been significant and Francona not turned to his best available arm. Papelbon has had the past three days to rest, so it wouldn’t really be a question of overworking him. The Red Sox could have used him today and then tomorrow is a scheduled off day. The game is played differently in the situation that the Sox are currently in. It is the downside to this "Wild Card."
I have stated my position on the Wild Card in the past, but am going to do so again. I think it is good for baseball since there is no salary cap currently. It is hard enough for small market teams to have a chance to experience postseason play, but if there was no Wild Card then it would be that much more difficult. The small market teams would be even more poor, in respect to the rest of the league. And the casual fans would turn away much quicker. Heck, even serious fans may turn their head, knowing the truth in cities like Kansas City, etc. They would understand that the playoffs are a pipe dream. Why should they support this league if my team doesn’t have a real, or fair shot at success? It is an unfair game when compared to football, especially.
How to solve this? Implement a salary cap and rid of the Wild Card once the finances level out some. Or even keep the Wild Card if the MLB wishes to do so, as the lack of a salary cap is the larger issue here.
And the Wild Card really isn’t THAT bad. It just takes away from some of the late season intensity at times, and lets teams in the playoffs that may not be all that good, giving them an opportunity to win a World Series ring. It isn’t as if more than half of the teams in the league get a postseason ticket (NBA, NHL). My Dad makes a good point, a 162 games season should separate the good teams from the slightly above average teams. It isn’t a 16 game schedule. It is 162 game schedule.
I also have another theory. That the Wild Card has teams take chances on their personnel more so. Because there is that extra spot for the postseason a team can wait until midway of the season or beyond to make roster improvements. They can say, "Well this team is pretty good, it will be tough to take the divsion, but we can make a few moves at the deadline to insure we make the playoffs as a Wild Card." If the Wild Card wasn’t there and they had to make the playoffs through a division win, especially in the AL East where the top two teams are so good, then these teams would have made sure they could put the best team imaginable on the field before the season starts, or early in the season. There would be more urgency all year long.
"Oh, and just one more thing!" The MVP discussion. Some believe that if a players team does not make the playoffs, then they did not do enough to be worthy of the MVP award. This may not be the best example, but some did not think that Ryan Howard should have been MVP last year because the Phillies didn’t make the playoffs, but that Pujols should have, because the Cardinals made it. Those people that used this theory, well, are wrong. The Phillies had to chase the Mets. The Cardinals had a very weak division and needed only 83 wins to make the playoffs. The Phillies actually won two more games than that of the Cardinals. So the people who used this argument were way off base. I know wins cannot be compared straight up between divsions, but look at the quality of teams if nothing else. Howard ended up winning. I chose Pujols, but it was not because of the fact that his team made the playoffs. It probably had something to do with the Gold Glove and the higher OPS. But that is another argument. But the point is, the best regular season team in the NL last year [were] the New York Mets. And the Phillies, not the Cardinals had to chase them.
This is where another positive aspect of the Wild Card comes in. If a great team is running away with a division, the 98′ Yankees, etc. Then is is realistic that the second best team in the league could be in second place. This could very well happen. And don’t we want the two best teams in the league playing for a chance to represent the AL/NL in the World Series? This insures that the two best teams make the playoffs in each league, so is there some positive to these extra playoff spots I guess.
But anyway. Gagne is still a questionable choice coming out of the pen, I can’t deny that.