As we are heading into the last few weeks of the regular season, the Boston Red Sox are poised to head into the postseason and are looking to clinch the AL East for the first time since 2007. Doing so would have them avoid the dreaded Wild Card play-in game. This new twist to the postseason had made it that much more important for a team to clinch their division.
The Wild Card game involving two teams officially started last season, but it really was born in 2011 when Boston collapsed and the Tampa Bay Rays won the Wild Card all in a period of a few minutes. That evening made for very high drama and absolute pain if you were a Red Sox fan.
It was then decided to add an extra Wild Card team. This is a great innovation for baseball. It now makes it tantamount for a team to win their division. You are now less likely to see a team trying to take it a little easy heading into the final weeks because they knew somehow they would be in the postseason, whether they were the division winners or owners of a wild card spot.
Both were of equal value other than home field advantage. Now a team will do whatever it takes to avoid the Wild Card game so they will continue to play as hard as they can until the issue is decided.
The second Wild Card team also is great for baseball, because it keeps more teams in contention. There have been many a season since 1995, where the Wild Card team won in a runaway, leaving all the other teams vying for that prize well behind.
Now, you have at least five teams competing for two spots in the AL and three teams competing in the NL. This is keeping more teams still very much in the pennant chase, which is great for the teams, the organizations and the fans. Everybody wins.
I recall last year’s play-in game where an umpire made a horribly bad call against the Atlanta Braves. I felt bad for them because it really was an awful call, but my feeling was “you know what, if you won your division, this wouldn’t have happened.” Sooner or later, Boston will be in that nerve-wracking position, but at least my blood pressure is thankful that it looks like the Red Sox get to avoid that playoff game this season.