MLB Playoff Preview: A New Wild Card Race
Let me begin with a quick break down of the organizational structure of the baseball playoffs. Major League Baseball consists of two leagues: the National League and the American League. The champions from each league face one another in the World Series to play a best of seven game series for the coveted Commissioner’s Trophy.
In the distant past, each league champion was determined solely from regular season win-loss records. In 1969, each league was split into eastern and western divisions, and the winners from each division would play league championship series to determine who would go on to the World Series. In 1994, each league was further divided into three divisions (east, west, and central), and another round was added to the baseball playoffs. At this time, in addition to the division leaders, an extra playoff slot known as the Wild Card was granted to the remaining team in each league with the best record.
The original Wild Card setup has sometimes been criticized because the weeks leading up to the playoffs can be quite dull, as the Wild Card favorite has little incentive to fight to win its division. This year, Major League Baseball is trying a new scheme, where the top two teams in each league’s Wild Card race will play one another in a single game playoff to decide who goes on to the division series.
At the time of writing this article, the National League Wild Card playoff will likely involve the Atlanta Braves and the St. Louis Cardinals in the Wild Card slot, and the winner will go on to face the first place team, likely the Washington Nationals. The San Francisco Giants will likely be playing the Cincinnati Reds. In the American League, however, the only team whose slot is certain is the team with the worst record among Playoff bound teams – the Detroit Tigers. The remaining four teams – the Texas Rangers, New York Yankees, Baltimore Orioles, and Oakland Athletics, all have records within 1.5 games of one another, and it promises to be a tight race to the finish.
Take a break from whatever you’re doing this Friday and tune in to watch a bit of the games to decide the Wild Card race on October 5. While baseball is historically slow paced, leaving ample time for blowing of bubbles, spitting of seeds, and scratching of unmentionables, Friday promises to bring a new and exciting intensity to the beginning of the playoffs. All four teams involved are sure to bring their best – whoever they may be.