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Wild Card Game is Strictly for Television Ratings

The Wild Card Game in Major League Baseball might be dramatic with a Game 7 feeling, but it typically defeats the purpose of a 162 game season. Both the American and National League Wild Card Game feature matchups between teams that finished six games apart in the standings. That is a significant difference when determining the best teams to compete in the Division Series.

In 2012, the Wild Card Game format was put in place. The Atlanta Braves also finished six games above the St. Louis Cardinals, but were forced into a one game playoff. Atlanta was the victim of an infamous infield fly call that led to them losing the game and being eliminated before the NLDS.

Baseball has a long season that evens out the good teams from the bad and accounts for injuries, hot and cold streaks, and establishes the bell curve among winning percentages. By having a Wild Card Game, the need to be that much better is eliminated.

Wild Card Game MLB PlayoffsYes, there have been seasons where the Wild Card Game featured teams with identical records or closer than six games, but that is what the end of the regular season should be for. Instead, MLB has allowed a less deserving team a do-or-die opportunity to upend a better team for the sake of television ratings. Hypothetically, if games weren’t televised, there would be no reason to have a Wild Card Game. It would only extend the season and leave fans wondering why such a game was even played.

Rather than compete with storylines of other teams eliminated from the playoff race, such as Giancarlo Stanton chasing 60 home runs, MLB wanted two more exclusive nights for the post season. Some of those games provide dramatic finishes, but it is at the expense of the better team throughout the season. If one team has better rotation depth, it is for naught since they have to save them IF the team makes it to the Divisional Series.

That is another factor that discredits the idea of the Wild Card Game – either Wild Card team is forced to burn a starter before a five-game series. If a team’s ace is starting in the Wild Card Game, he is unavailable until at least Game Two of the Divisional Series. He may make two starts in the series if his team can hang around that long, but it puts a given team at a disadvantage from the start.

Wild Card Game MLB Playoffs

The Wild Card Game seems to be a way for Major League Baseball to hedge its bets on the post-season ratings. If there is a lack of suspenseful games later on, at least they had the Wild Card Game to provide “win or go home” drama. It just happens to feature a team that was six games behind their opponent in the standings.

One of the only benefits of the Wild Card Game is that it puts a greater emphasis on winning a division. By finishing first, a team is guaranteed a five-game Divisional Series. It is not subject to the one-game playoff where anything can happen. A division winner also keeps its rotation in line for its series. Given that teams are allowed to add or remove players in-between rounds, a manager could opt to throw more relievers and potentially let his ace throw both the Wild Card Game and Game One of the Divisional Series. However, the Wild Card is a must win; the first divisional game is not.

Wild Card Game MLB PlayoffsA lesser complaint, but still applicable, is the amount of celebrating that teams do for qualifying or advancing each round. If a team qualifies for the playoffs, it celebrates. If they win the division, they celebrate. If they win the Wild Card Game, they celebrate. And then of course the Division Series, League Championship Series, and World Series. Watching teams douse champagne in the locker room gets old after a while. There is no need to add teams who celebrate qualifying and teams that relish in surviving a play-in game. It’s like March Madness showing the First Four as they make the tournament and then get the chance to take on a #1 seed.

Fans can be for or against the playoff format any given year. If your team is six games back and qualifies for the Wild Card Game, you are ecstatic. If your team is six games up and is forced to play the Wild Card Game, you think it is bogus. If your team won the division, you are glad that you don’t have to face the ace of the Wild Card Game winner. If your team was the third Wild Card, you are advocating for expanded playoffs.

Either way, the format seems to be staying as long as fans keep watching. If it gets people to talk about baseball more, then I am reluctantly in favor. There is no guarantee of a World Series Game 7, so the Wild Card Game could be the next best thing.

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