In the year 2008, things seemed a bit simpler. The Philadelphia Phillies owned the best record in the National League and went on to win the NLDS, the NLCS, and then the World Series, all convincingly. And then the tides began to turn in 2012. All of the sudden, the field of four became five. The Wild-Card team, instead of waiting patiently with the rest of the league, had to play a game to decide their fate against another contender. And while many cried out that it unfairly punishes the teams who normally got a free pass into the Divisional Series, something different happened this time around.
After dominant performances all season long from the Cardinals, Orioles, Angels and especially the Nationals, every team was eliminated hastily in their respective series’ against the Wild Card team. The Royals made quick work of the Angels and Orioles, sweeping them both, while it only took San Francisco nine games to finish off the Nationals and the Cardinals.
This begs the question of if the Wild Card game is not as much a curse as it is a blessing. Baseball always has, and forever will be, a game of momentum. It is the only sport where the ten game win streak is an annual occurrence, the walk off hit leads to a hitting streak and the two day layover, which in comparison to the NFL’s week long wait or the NBA’s average three day wait can quiet a team’s bats.
So when the entirety of the teams in the playoffs excepting two get two days more to rest than the others, they’re well rested. A little too well rested, as the Nationals, Dodgers and Angels’ bats proved in the Division Series. Meanwhile, the Giants and Royals didn’t necessarily bulldoze through the pitching staffs of their opponents, but they were significantly better. And both continued their runs through the Championship Series, and into the World Series, with unlikely heroes stepping up, like Travis Ishikawa, or Mike Moustakas, simply because their team is hot.
So here’s a new proposition; maybe its time to look at the Wild Card game not as a one and done chance to lose your season, but instead a chance to boost your energy, emotion, pitching and bats. Looking at it, teams should not look at it as a burden, but as an opportunity.
“The way it has all unfolded, I think this was a case where being a wild card ended up working to our advantage,” Kansas City manager Ned Yost said. “That win over Oakland in the wild-card game showed our guys that they could win (in the postseason).