Double your Wild Cards and Double Your Fun! Or does it. With the playoff spots just about decided, it seems like a good time to look back at the first season with two Wild Card teams. Of course, since this is an Indians blog, we'll always have an Indians centric view of the world.
While early in the season it looked like a lot of crazy situations could pan out, with about half the league vying for a playoff spot, things settled down fairly quickly. In the AL Tampa Bay and Los Angeles were in it until this past week, but Seattle was removed from the conversation long ago after making a slight post All-Star break push and the other four teams never had any chance. Chicago, who was eliminated from the division race yesterday, is actually 8 games back from the second Wild Card with just two games left. The National League was similar with most of the teams out by early September and just a few teams left fighting for that final spot (the Dodgers are technically still in the hunt at two games behind St. Louis).
For now, forget about the NL, because this is really all about the White Sox. While both the White Sox and the Tigers seem like elite teams in the AL, if the playoffs were completely decided by Win-Loss record, neither team would be in at all. There are only nine other teams in the league outside of the Central and six of them have better records than any team in the Central. This seems to happen every year, and is the number one reason for the creation of the second Wild Card. The big money teams, who spend about $100 Million more on salary each year than the Indians, wanted to make sure they all could make the playoffs, even when they play in the same division. This playoff spot was created for the Red Sox, they just didn't want it this year. Going back a few years, it is obvious who would have taken that last Wild Card spot.
|Year||Actual Wild Card||Second Wild Card|
Each team that would have won the second Wild Card in the last ten year, with the exception of the Indians in 2005, Oakland in 2004 and two ties by Seattle, is in the top ten in the MLB in spending. This gets those teams what they want, which is the playoff money bonus. If the Wild Card had been expanded 10 years ago, then Boston and New York (the two biggest spending AL teams) would have both made the playoffs every single year except 2006. In three of the last four seasons, three teams from the five team AL East would have made the playoffs as Tampa Bay found a way to field a good team without paying their star players over $20 Million a year.
The actual results from this new system seem like they may be the opposite of what is intuitive, however. The goal of any baseball team is not simply to make the playoffs, but to win the World Series, and the second Wild Card should make this much harder for both Wild Card teams. Having a single play-in game should waste each team's ace and start the wear on their bullpen before the significant playoff series start. This means that the teams with the best record in each league (already the favorite) get another advantage when they play the Play-In winning Wild Card team. Since the Wild Card teams are obviously not as good as the division winners, they will struggle with this disadvantage more than their opponents would have.
This movement of the benefit towards the division winner, rather than the Wild Card, makes this new system fair. The way the divisions are made up (especially with the changes coming in 2013 to put 5 teams in each division), puts the emphasis on the division winner and with the extra Wild Card, is stays there. As far as the Indians go, the White Sox have proven that they needed to win the Division outright to make the playoffs this season and will likely have to in the future. This is fine with Cleveland as it means when they do make the playoffs, they will be in the strongest position to make it deep into the playoffs.