September baseball has been more fun with the Phillies squarely involved in the chase for the second wild card spot in the National League. Without it, weeknight baseball games would be lacking importance and we’d be forced to stomach the thought that the Braves and Nationals are running away with playoff spots. Not cool.
What is fun is witnessing the Phillies make a late-season push for that final spot in the 2012 postseason. (As an aside, if the Phillies were to make it, what color would the flag be for the second wild card? Never been in this position.)
Jeff Passan of Yahoo! Sports argues that Phillies fans should not be allowed to partake in the madness:
Baseball touted the second wild card as something that would feed the down-the-stretch-drama beast. Certainly the one-game playoffs between wild-card teams will be entertaining, the do-or-die aspect a welcome treat. And the fact that baseball penalizes the wild card by forcing it to waste a top starter before the division series or risk losing because it didn’t pitch its frontline guy is the sort of disincentive the wild card should’ve had in the first place.
To do those things at the expense of the regular season and its integrity, though, goes against better judgment. Perhaps this is an anomaly and the AL wild card in the future will average 94 wins, as it has, and the NL’s will exceed 90 as well. Maybe these are first-year kinks that get the cynics and those against since its inception all in a lather (in this particular case, a blather).
More likely is the annual bastardization of a regular season that is unique and special to baseball. It is a 162-game slog, a slow burn of strategy and stamina. Diminishing it in any way is counterintuitive to what baseball should try to do: keep it as pristine as possible, and damn sure don’t let some off-brand version of a ball club sneak into the playoffs.
Calling it a “bastardization of the regular season” is a bit harsh. Yes, baseball’s unique rules and shorter postseason mean that every game counts much more than in a seven-game series in the NHL or NBA. Adding a fifth playoff team waters it down to an extent. But how can you criticize Major League Baseball for wanting to bottle the amazing final day they had last season so that it happens every year?
I like that adding the second wild card means divisional winners will have a more dramatic advantage than in previous seasons. The wild card teams will likely be using one of their better starters, therefore screwing up their rotational plans in the opening round of the postseason. Wild card teams were on an equal playing field with the divisional winners, which shouldn’t be the case. Winning the division is the ultimate test for a team through a long regular season. Now, they’re being rewarded for that again, just as they had been prior to the wild card being added.
This is hardly the first time mediocre teams have been included in the postseason. In 2006, the St. Louis Cardinals won a bad Central Division with just 83 wins. They won the whole damn thing. Go way back to 1973, the Mets won the NL East with 82 victories. Occasionally, it just so happens that enough teams are having down seasons allowing a less-than-perfect club to slip in. It’s likely this year will be an exception to the rule, that it only takes 84 or 85 wins to get in. Is that enough to complain about? We should see how the next four or five seasons go before coming to a conclusion that this is harming the integrity of the game.
And to say this is being done at the expense of the regular season is also slightly off-base. If a divisional winner were involved in a one-game playoff to advance, then we should complain. But wild card teams were given too much leeway. Plus, it’s not as if baseball is allowing half the teams in the league into the postseason, as is the case in other sports, which therefore waters it down and lengthens it.
Clearly, there is much more excitement as several teams and their supporters get to enjoy more meaningful baseball; isn’t that what it’s about? Shouldn’t paying fans be subject to that late in the year, instead of spending hundreds or dollars to bring their family to the ballpark for a game that otherwise wouldn’t count? The fans of the Brewers and Pirates and Diamondbacks can now get up and cheer instead of turning their full attention to the Packers, Steelers, and Cardinals; and of course the Eagles here in Philly.
So, while the Phillies probably aren’t quite worthy of a playoff berth after the type of year they’ve had, it’s still enjoyable to the end.