Baseball has a serious problem with the recently added wild card format. While the excitement of the postseason race is better than ever, the actual structure of the wild card game and subsequent divisional rounds may give wild card winners an advantage over division winners with the best record in their league. This has been a topic of discussion across national broadcasts, so let’s outline the issues here.
In theory, the wild card teams carry momentum into the wild card game, as at least one of the teams was likely using the end of the regular season to actual enter the playoffs. Here’s how the schedule looks this year:
October 1: Last day of the regular season. All games start around 3pm ET.
October 2: Day off
October 3: American League Wild Card Game
October 4: National League Wild Card Game
October 5: American League Divisional Series begins
October 6: National League Divisional Series begins
The problem? Take a team like the Los Angeles Dodgers, for example. The Dodgers recently clinched the NL West, leaving them with minimal meaningful baseball through October 1. Then the team is put on ice for four full days. Sure, they can set their ace for Game 1 of the divisional series, but that much time off could certainly do more damage than good for the lineup.
On the other side, the Colorado Rockies currently hold the second wild card by 2.5 games over the Milwaukee Brewers. The Brewers could get hot, overcome the Rockies, and win the second wild card on the last day of the regular season. They then carry momentum into the wild card game with the Arizona Diamondbacks. If the Brewers use their ace in the last game of the regular season, and survive the wild card game, then the same ace can pitch on normal rest in Game 1 of the divisional series, just like Los Angeles. The Dodgers have 17 more wins than the Brewers today.
The wild card game was meant to be an extra incentive for teams to win their division, but the scheduling has backfired. Since the inception of the second wild card, the wild card game winner is 23-19 overall against the division winner they play.
While the days off are unavoidable, the division series against the team with the best record can give more of a disadvantage to the wild card game winner. One idea I liked, which I believe was discussed on MLB Network, included changing the home and away schedule of the five-game series. The wild card game winner would get one home game at the start of the series, and then four consecutive games would be scheduled at the other ballpark. This would guarantee both teams a home game, but make the journey to the championship round much more challenging for the wild card game winner.
The second wild card is a blessing, but there must be more of a reward for being the best teams after 162 games in a long season.