I’ve gotten into a few discussions lately about the need for a second wild card in baseball. I should state that I’ve never been a fan of having even one wild card in baseball, but have come to accept it only because I know baseball will never go back to two divisions. Those in favor of two wild cards say that it adds excitement to the pennant race. I say not and ask, is it really needed? The answer is no and this season is the perfect example. I’ll examine the pennant races in each league beginning with the National League.
This weekend the Cincinnati Reds and San Francisco Giants clinched their divisions. They both clinched with 10 games left in the season. Ten games. That’s 6% of the season remaining. That’s like clinching your division in football with one or two weeks left in the season. That’s exciting. If you’re a fan, unless it’s your team winning the division, you probably want every race to come down to the last game, but in baseball, that’s a rarity. In the third division, the Washington Nationals hold a 4.5 game lead over the Atlanta Braves for the East. The Nationals have 10 games left and the Braves have 9 left. That’s a good race. The Braves have made up 3 games over the last 10 games, so it’s not impossible for them to win the division. I think that’s exciting.
Those in favor of the second wild card will point out that the Braves have a 6 game lead over the St. Louis Cardinals in the wild card race and that by adding the second wild card, the chase for the second wild card would be exciting. There are four teams that are within 5 games of the Cardinals for that second spot. St. Louis doesn’t play any of the teams behind it, so it’s not quite that exciting. If it’s that exciting, why not add a third wild card. if you did that, the Milwaukee Brewers would have the third spot and the Los Angeles Dodgers would only be .5 game behind them. Now, that would be exciting.
Those in favor of the second wild card also say that by adding a second spot, more fans are interested in the pennant race. They would tell you that Giants and Reds fans can relax since their teams have already clinched their divisions. I say that is complete crap. Right now one half of a game separates the Nationals and Reds for the best record in the National League (and all of baseball) and the Giants are only 3 games behind that. That’s three teams battling for the league championship while one of them is still battling for a division title. Home field is on the line and that’s a pretty important thing to play for. I guess for some, playing for the wild card is more exciting that trying to win your division or trying to get the number one seed.
Let’s look at the American League. For the wild card, with two spots, the Baltimore Orioles and Oakland A’s would be in the playoffs. The Los Angeles Angels are 2.5 games back and the Tampa Bay Rays are 3 back. I won’t lie, that is exciting, but let’s look at the rest of the story. No one has won their division yet and the biggest lead a division leader has is in the West where the Texas Rangers have a 4 game lead over the A’s. They also have to play each other 6 more times. If you don’t think that’s exciting, you need to have your head examined. In the East and Central, the New York Yankees and Chicago White Sox have a one game lead over the Orioles and Detroit Tigers respectively. While the White Sox don’t play the Tigers and the Yankees don’t play the Orioles, there is still plenty of excitement in both of those races.
Let’s take the second wild card out of the equation and see what we’re left with. The Orioles, still battling for their division, would be in the lead for the wild card, the A’s would be one game behind them, the Angels would be 3.5 back and the Rays would be 4.5 back. You would have three teams less than 5 games back with 10 to play. Not exciting enough for you? I’ll throw this in then. The Orioles and Rays end the season with a three game series against each other. Yeah, two teams separated by 4.5 games, with 10 to play and three of those against each other is not exciting at all.
This all comes off a weekend that saw the Yankees battle the A’s in a three game series that saw all three games decided by one run with two of the games going into extra innings. Those types of games aren’t really exciting. Lastly, the Rangers lead the Yankees by two games for the best record in the league.
Let’s sum this up. There are six divisions and teams have either 9 or 10 games left. Of those six divisions, in three of them, the division leader has a one game lead, one team has a 4 game lead, but plays the team it leads 6 more times. The last two divisions have been clinched. So boring. The American League wild card is a toss up right now and the National League has yet to be settled. This is all without a second wild card.
Now that I’ve shown that baseball does not need the second wild card for excitement, let’s take a look at what it does bring to the table this year. It takes away home field advantage from the team with the better record in the Divisional Series. The team with the worse record gets to host the first two games of a five game series. That’s a huge advantage, but it’s not real exciting.