Wild Card Format Hurts Rivalry

by Eddie Mayrose

It should have been a baseball fan’s dream.  The game’s biggest rivalry, Yankees-Red Sox, taking center stage in the middle of August with the teams dead even atop the AL East standings.  In years past, each city would have come to a dead stop as the series played out.  This time around, however, in the dreaded era of the Wild Card, it was just another three game summer set.
There has been much excitement generated by the playoff format that was expanded in 1995.  Not only have teams that would have otherwise been eliminated enjoyed the added thrills and ticket sales generated by a pennant race, more than a few have manage to win the World Series. Iis there that advocates of the system point when extolling its virtues.

There is a dark side to this, though, one that the suits at MLB choose to ignore, and it made its annual appearance in the middle of the AL East race.  With both the Bombers and Bosox nine games clear of their closest Wild Card contender, each is virtually guaranteed a playoff berth already.  Thus, there is no urgency to juggle pitching rotations in order to create favorable matchups or rush injured players back on to the field.  Why bother?  The division title has been rendered meaningless by the playoff system that Bud Selig and his money grabbing minions have sworn to uphold.

Last season, with these same two teams neck and neck into the last week, it seemed as though the title was an afterthought.  Indeed, the Yankees’ matchup wit the Twins, one that resulted from their being the Wild Card winner, was infinitely more beneficial than Boston’s, who had to face Rangers’ ace Cliff Lee twice in a five game series.  Does MLB really want a situation t exist where a team can actually be better off by losing?

Here’s a simple solution.  Since Selig and his boys are so hot too add another playoff team, let’s give them one. At the same time, let’s restore some integrity to the divisional races.  Each league will now have two wild cards, and those teams will meet in a one game playoff on the day after the season ends with the winner advancing.  Want to make it important to win the division?  Float a winner-take-all playoff game in front of any team and see if they start to care a little bit more about the regular season.

Taking it a step further, no matter what the outcome of the All Star Game, no Wild Card team should gain home field advantage in the World Series.  In a SiriusXM radio spot I did shortly after the Yankees had, once again, dispatched the Minnesota Twins in three straight last October, host Mike Ferrin wondered about the merits of my proposal, thinking that it was too severe and overly punished the Wild Card team.  Punish?  Maybe.  But it certainly removes the window of opportunity a team might use to roll over and gain a weaker opponent in the first round.  More importantly, it restores the importance of late season games between divisional rivals; something we all want to see.

As I Sit and Think
Congratulations to Chris Mullin, Brooklyn-born St. John’s legend, NBA All-Star and Olympic Gold Medalist, on his induction into the National Basketball Hall of Fame.  The classic gym rat, Mullin spent a lifetime playing the game the right way.  That he never got to do it for the Knicks is a shame…  With Daniel Murphy out for the season and Jose Reyes, once again, on the shelf, is it finally time for the wheels to come off of the Mets’ bandwagon.  Maybe, but don’t bet on it.  If Terry Collins has done nothing else, he’s, at least, turned this group into a team of grinders that will battle until the last out… I keep hearing the same refrain from radio talkies about the Yankees’ rotation. “You just can’t take Burnett out of the rotation and replace him with Ivan Nova.”  Really?  Burnett is in the third of three seasons in which he’s underperformed spectacularly while Ivan Nova has done nothing but win whenever he’s been handed the ball.  The common logic says that Nova is a playoff risk because of his inexperience.  “You don’t know what he’ll give you”, goes the thinking.  That might be true.  The scary thing for Yankee fans, however, is that they, pretty much, DO know what Burnett will deliver.  Given the choice, I’ll take my chances with the kid… There’s no doubt that  the signing of RB Ahmad Bradshaw was a critical one for the Giants as they head into the 2011 season. However,  not much else has gone right for Big Blue since training camp opened.  The bitter contract battle between the front office and DE Osi Umenyiora stands to be a distraction that could last throughout the entire pre-season and beyond while the injury to their first round pick, CB Prince Amukumura, robs them of much needed help for a defensive unit that was one of the league’s worst in 2010.  With the Cowboys welcoming back Tony Romo and the much improved Eagles looming as a Super Bowl favorite, Eli Manning and Co. may have to put up a ton of points for the season to be successful… On the other side of the PSL aisle, the usual bluster about Super Bowls is, again, emanating from Jets camp in Florham Park.  Rex Ryan, to this point, has backed up his talk to some degree with two straight appearances in the AFC title game.  However, it’s hard to see where the Jets have improved enough to start booking hotel rooms in Indianapolis.  They’ve replaced WR Jericho Cotchery and Braylon Edwards with the recently paroled Plaxico Burress, who hasn’t played football outside of a prison yard for two years.  DE Shaun Ellis turned down Gang Green’s contract offer and, worse, headed north to the Patriots.  That gaping hole on the D-Line will be filled by untested Muhammad Wilkerson, a rookie out of Temple.  It’s a given that Big Rexy will put a playoff-worthy defensive unit on the field, but he’s betting heavy that Mark Sanchez will take that big step from promising youngster to elite quarterback.

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