Major League Baseball has a problem—they have a month of games scheduled in September that have virtually no meaning.
As of today, with three weeks left in the season, there is only one playoff position in both leagues in question. The AL West, which Texas leads by only 2.5 games, is the only real pennant race in baseball. I have a hard time calling the Yankees and Red Sox race for home-field advantage in the playoffs a pennant race, considering the fact that I don’t think either team will push their starters in the last week of the season to win the division—and they are right in doing so. Last season, American League home teams only won 5 of a possible 16 games in the playoffs. Furthermore, the penalty of one less home game is not great enough to force teams to fight for the division title in the last week of the season, and it’s a shame. Barring a monumental crash by one of the current division leaders, there will be no excitement in the last weeks of the MLB season, a problem MLB has to address.
Baseball was lucky from 2007-2009, when the NL Wild Card and AL Central (twice) titles were decided by one-game playoffs. They were some of the more exciting MLB games of the past decade. Baseball lacks the exciting pennant race because the Wild Card has decreased the chances for meaningful games in late-September.
The theory behind the Wild Card is good—incorporating a fourth team in each league to the playoffs will allow for more cities and fan-bases to have hope for the playoffs as the season progresses. And overall, it has been good since its inception in 1995. But in a year like this, when the two Wild Card leaders in each league have a 7 and 6.5 game lead with three weeks to play, fans will opt for watching an NFL pre-season game over a September MLB game. That should change if MLB decides to add a second Wild Card team in each league because it will make winning the division important again.
A second Wild Card team means the two teams will have to play either a one, or three-game playoff to decide who advances to the Division Series, giving a bye to the three division winners. If that were the case this year, the Yankees and Red Sox’ race for the AL East crown would mean the loser plays a short series against the Texas Rangers, Anaheim Angels, or Tampa Bay Rays. Despite their differences in record, facing anybody in a short series, especially teams with dominant front-end starting pitching, is a daunting task (penalty). It means the Yankees would start CC Sabathia on the last day of the regular season in order to win the division, something that will not happen if the scenario presents itself under the current rules. Teams around the league might say winning the division is important, and I don’t doubt they rather win the division than Wild Card, but until they fight for the division late into the season rather than settling for pitching alignment and the Wild Card, I don’t believe them (see the Yankees in 2010).
With the extra Wild Card, Baseball will do what it successfully did in 1995; gain more interest in a regular season that can be otherwise monotonous.
NYYUniverse.com Staff Writer
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