I’m not entirely sure if Major League baseball, or more specifically Bud Selig had planned on this occurring when he created the second Wild Card, or even the first for that matter. Winning the division is key. It’s never been more important during divisional play than when the second Wild Card was created. But in 2014, the wild game game looks more like it could become a Wild Card Series in the NL and just as importantly the Wild Card may have implications on Home Field Advantage as well.
The Washington Nationals technically have the second-best record in the NL right now, though three teams have more wins. No matter, it will all even out in the end. But what happens if the best record in the NL and wild card all end up being the same? One look at the standings and you may notice that two and a half games are all that separates Home Field Advantage in the NL, and not making the playoffs at all. Though it’s unlikely, what happens if the Nationals, Braves, Brewers, Cardinals, Pirates, Dodgers and Giants all end up with the same record?
According to MLB tie-breaking procedures, the Dodgers and Giants would play a one game playoff for the NL West division title. Then, the Braves and Nats would play another game to determine the NL East division winner. In the NL Central, it would be even more confusing. The Brewers, Cardinals and Pirates would be randomly designated as teams A, B and C. Teams A and B would square off for the chance to play team C for the division title. For example, let’s pretend the Cardinals and Pirates are teams A and B. They’ll play each other, the winner will then play the Brewers and the winner of that game would be declared the NL Central division winner. But wait, there’s more. That still leaves four non-division winners in a tie for two Wild Card spots. These teams would be randomly designated as teams A, B, C and D. Teams A and B would play one another for the right to be designated as one Wild Card team, and C and D would play each other for the other slot.
Let’s pretend the Giants beat the Dodgers and won the NL West and the Braves beats the Nationals for the NL East. Let’s also pretend that from the mess that is the NL Central, the Brewers emerged victorious as the Division winner. That would leave the Dodgers, Nationals, Cardinals and Pirates as possible Wild Card teams. Let’s also pretend the Dodgers are team A, the Nationals are team B, the Cardinals are C and the Pirates are D. The Dodgers and Nationals would play, the winner would move on to the one game Wild Card playoff while the loser would be eliminated. The Cardinals and the Pirates would find themselves in the same situation. Let’s say the Dodgers beat the Nationals and the Cardinals beat the Pirates, then the Cardinals and Dodgers would play the one-game Wild Card playoff. But with the same record, who would host the game? It would be whoever had the better record in head-head games.
If this unlikely scenario were to arise, there would be a total of seven playoff games played before the NL would even have decided who the division winners and sole wild card winner are. Keep in mind, this is unlikely, but in a race in which the best record in the NL and wild card oblivion are separated by only two wins, anything can happen. Luckily for the American League, things appear more clear cut, and quite possibly, even more unfair.
The Athletics and the Angels are the two best teams in the AL, and likely the two best in baseball. Two games separate these teams. The rest of the AL is quite a ways behind. For example, despite trailing the Athletics by two games, the Angels hold an eight game lead in the Wild Card race. It seems that right now, there is one major race in the AL followed by a series of minor races. The winner between the Angels and A’s will win Home Field Advantage, the other will be forced into playing a one-game playoff. In the AL East, there’s a smaller race going on between the Yankees, Rays, Orioles and Blue Jays to see which team can be the least awful in the second half. In the AL Central, there are the Tigers and a series of .500 ball clubs that reasonably shouldn’t make the playoffs. But alas, there’s also the race for the second Wild Card spot, where only five game separates the White sox who are “not very good” and the Toronto Blue Jays, who are less “not very good”. But here is the part where fairness goes out the window.
The Angels seem like to win 95+ games this season, while the A’s are in the same boat. Let’s pretend the A’s reach 100 wins and the Angels 98 wins. Both are amazing seasons, yet the Angels may find themselves in a one game playoff against a team like Seattle or even Chicago who may only have won 88 games. The fun part is, Seattle or Chicago would likely find itself with the opportunity to deploy a Felix Hernandez or Chris Sale in their one game playoff. Those are two extremely difficult pitchers to beat for any team, whether they have 50 wins or 100 wins.
Some people may look at the current system and note that it lacks fairness and could/should be improved. Others take particular note of the excitement and additional races the second Wild Card birth brings. Whatever the case, baseball season is shaping up to bring us yet another amazing September and drama-filled October.