As we head into play on Wednesday, 12 of the 15 teams in the American League are within six games of a playoff spot. This is great news if you were a member of Bud Selig’s Blue Ribbon Committee, tasked with bringing parity — competitive balance is the preferred MLB jargon, I believe — to a sport that has seen its fair share of dominant dynasties. The addition of a second wild card, along with rising television revenues that have shrunk the gap between the haves and the have-nots, means that more teams are fancying themselves as contenders now than ever before.
The Royals, a game below .500, are reportedly more interested in acquiring a hitter to bolster their offense than in selling off the final few months of James Shields‘ contract. The Rays are five games below .500, but have won six straight and might just be talking themselves out of trading David Price, given their recent surge. Even the Red Sox, who looked dead and buried a few weeks ago, have now won eight of their last 10, and can probably make a case for keeping their team together to make a last ditch run at defending their championship.
However, I’d like to make a suggestion to American League teams chasing the second Wild Card spot: proceed with caution.
The reward for even winning the Wild Card used to be a best-of-five series that would likely result in at least two home playoff games, a nifty little reward for a team’s fan base. Under the new system, however, the carrot at the end of the Wild Card stick is just a single game winner-take-all affair, with the loser only extending their season by one additional day, and maybe not even playing that game in front of their home crowd.
And the news gets worse for the second Wild Card entry in the American League this year; not only are you going on the road for an elimination game, but you’re almost guaranteed to be going up against one of the very best teams in baseball.
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