As so often seems to be the case, we are being treated to a grandstand finish to the MLB season.
The restructuring of the postseason back in 1995 with the introduction of Wild Cards was greeted with a healthy dose of scepticism, but in most years since we have been entertained royally as the regular season has been played out.
Prior to Sunday’s games, both the Boston Red Sox and Atlanta Braves were doing their best to keep that trend going. Seemingly both on course for relatively comfortable postseason qualification as they entered September, the two clubs have slumped in the final month while others have piled on the pressure.
It’s made for an exciting final few days despite all six division winners being confirmed by last Friday. Such excitement makes you wonder what impact the possible introduction of an additional Wild Card in each league will have on the competition.
It was noted in last week’s column that the provisional 2012 MLB schedule appeared to offer little room for an additional playoff round. Since then, word has spread that it is still possible the new Wild Card round will be introduced next year.
Reports suggest that the players will only accept an extra playoff round if that change is accompanied by a more balanced schedule, created in part by one team (almost certainly the Houston Astros) moving from the National League into the American League (and specifically into the AL West).
The repercussions of all this will take time to be negotiated as part of the next Collective Bargaining Agreement; however it’s possible that the additional Wild Card could be added next year ahead of any other changes so long as a plan is agreed for the rest. What we do know is that the extra Wild Card will be added at some point.
It’s tempting to look at this year’s two Wild Card battles and to see how they would be affected if we were playing under the two Wild Cards per league rules. At this stage of the season (prior to Sunday’s games) we would still have five teams involved, although the Boston Red Sox and Atlanta Braves would be feeling a lot more comfortable. The St. Louis Cardinals would be virtually there rather than on the outside of the race, while the Los Angeles Angels would be much closer to playing in October.
The difficulty with re-running these battles is that we cannot tell how Front Offices would have approached the season, let alone the trade deadline and final two months, had they known at the outset that there were five spots up for grabs in each league rather than four. Would teams such as the Toronto Blue Jays, Chicago White Sox, Cleveland Indians, San Francisco Giants and Los Angeles Dodgers have made additional moves in that case?
We don’t know for sure, but that’s the idea of adding an extra Wild Card round (alongside the potential to increase revenues, of course): giving more teams the potential to make the postseason and therefore more hope for fans of those teams.
In practice, the benefits of the extra Wild Card are likely to fluctuate year-by-year, just as they do with the current Wild Card. Some years it will create more excitement, while in others it will have the opposite effect with the best ten teams all securing their playoff spot in good time.
In fact, the biggest impact the change is likely to have is not on who makes the postseason, but who exits it first. After going through the stresses and strains of a pressurized run-in, the joy felt in making it to the postseason via clinching a Wild Card spot in dramatic circumstances could be extremely swiftly curtailed if, as expected, the Wild Card round will simply be a one-game showdown in each league.
That will hopefully make teams all the more determined to win their division and avoid the Wild Card race. And that should make the Wild Card race all the more exciting.
If I had a ‘prediction of the week’ award, it would undoubtedly go to Oakland A’s radio announcer Vince Cotroneo. Prior to the A’s game against the Texas Rangers on Thursday, he predicted that the A’s second baseman Jemile Weeks would break his home-run hitting duck. Sure enough, Weeks hit his first Big League longball off Colby Lewis that day.
Jemile Weeks has been a great example this year of how even if your team isn’t in contention, there are always bright spots to give you hope for next year. Amid the A’s disappointing season, Weeks has had a very promising rookie campaign. He doesn’t have the power potential of his older brother Rickie, but he has plenty of energy and should become a good everyday player. He also takes the ‘London Bus’ approach to hitting homers. After making 90 Major League appearances before hitting his first homer, he then went deep for the second time the very next day.
The most surprising story of the week came from Florida where we found out that their closer, Leo Nunez, is not actually called Leo Nunez at all. He has been using fake ID and documents, assuming the name of a friend from the Dominican Republic, largely it seems as a way to hide his true age (currently 29 rather than 28). The case of Juan Carlos Oviedo, as he should be known from now on, is not unique among players from the Dominican and it always seems strange that it can happen considering the checks that you would assume must be undertaken for a person entering the U.S.