Argument against Wild Card falling on deaf ears
The Wild Card concept is like the cellphone: We can no longer imagine how we got along without it.
This is the second September of Wild Card II, the expansion to two Wild Card teams in each league. It does not seem as though the competition is being diluted. It appears instead as though the competition has been broadened.
That was always the traditionalist argument against the Wild Card: It will dilute the caliber of the competition, they said. This portion of the anti-Wild Card argument fell from serious discussion after three consecutive Wild Card teams won the World Series: the Angels, Marlins and Red Sox from 2002-04. In all, five Wild Card teams have won the World Series, four of them over the past 11 seasons, most recently the Cardinals in 2011.
There was another wave of the dilution argument when two more Wild Card teams were added for the 2012 postseason. Again, the competition disproved that notion.
The argument that October baseball would be watered down by the participation of two more clubs didn't go anywhere last year either. The Cardinals were the second National League Wild Card team. They beat the Braves in the NL Wild Card Game, won the NL Division Series against the Nationals and advanced to within one game of the 2012 World Series, losing in the NL Championship Series to the eventual World Series champion Giants. Far from cheapening the competition, the Cardinals heightened it. This year, the Wild Card boost can already be seen in September. For sustained drama, this might be a particularly timely development. At least three division races do not appear to be going down to the wire.
Rather than complain about this, we can instead congratulate the Boston Red Sox, the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Atlanta Braves. The play of these clubs has at times moved beyond the outstanding and into the realm of dominant.
The Tigers have at times seemed ready to run away with the American League Central, but they haven't found their put-away gear yet. Credit the Indians and Royals for remaining in the hunt.
There are two division races of the classic kind. In the AL West, it's Oakland and Texas, two clubs that took this race down to the final day of the regular season in 2012 and might well do so again.
In the NL Central, three clubs -- the Cardinals, Pirates and Reds -- entered the week separated by two games. The just-completed three-game series between Pittsburgh and St. Louis at Busch Stadium, in which the Cardinals moved from 1 1/2 games back of the Pirates to 1 1/2 games ahead, was one of those head-to-head showdowns that characterized the best of September baseball.
The two clubs that don't win the NL Central will likely qualify for the NL Wild Card spots, although the Nationals and the D-backs still retain long-shot status in that race. But if you've seen the three NL Central contenders play, you can also see that they all deserve to qualify for the postseason.
The AL, though, is where the Wild Card field is crowded. The Rangers and Rays are in the lead for the two Wild Card spots at this point, but the Orioles, Indians, Yankees and Royals are all in solid contention. Six clubs battling for two postseason openings is the kind of thing that has allowed the Wild Card to gain more than just a foothold in baseball's postseason.
And the addition of the second Wild Card team in each league has made the process more equitable. With teams meeting each other in the Wild Card Game, the previous anti-Wild Card argument, that Wild Card teams were not sufficiently penalized by the format, is now a memory. That Wild Card Game -- that all-or-nothing contest in which a team may have to use its top starter in order to have further postseason life -- clearly differentiates the division winners from the Wild Card.
This was an innovation that troubled some purists when it was turned from concept to reality nearly two decades ago, with Commissioner Bud Selig serving as the primary agent of change. Credit the 1993 San Francisco Giants for winning 103 games and not reaching the postseason, finishing one game behind the 104-win Braves in the NL West. They provided useful evidence of the notion that there were enough very good teams to make an expanded postseason not only possible, but vital.
Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.