09/22/11 10:58 PM ET
Drama, tension encapsulate Wild Card races
By Mitch Williams / MLB.com
But if you went back to Sept. 2, it didn't appear that there would be any high drama when it came to these races. At that point, the Braves held a 8 1/2-game lead in the National League and the Red Sox were up by nine in the American League.
Fast forward, and both the Red Sox and Braves are falling apart down the stretch. The Braves are clinging to a two-game lead over the Cardinals, and Boston is trying to hold off the Rays and Angels, both two and three games back, respectively.
What happened? Let's start with Boston. The Red Sox's pitching has all but evaporated in September. The starters have an ERA of six and some change this month, and the bullpen hasn't been good either. The once-dominant Daniel Bard has struggled mightily in September.
Boston's offense, which can be potent at times, has been inconsistent. I've written in the past how the Giants' lineup placed extra pressure on its pitching staff. Well, that also works the other way. When a starting pitcher goes to the mound, knowing that if he gives up two runs he is probably going to lose, at some point he will feel way too much pressure to be perfect. The same applies to a lineup that knows if it doesn't score eight or nine runs a game, the result will be a loss.
This is why balance is so important and why one facet of a team can't be expected to carry the burden of being perfect night after night. A pitching staff has to be able to throw up a zero every now and then, but a lineup also has to put up the occasional 10-spot.
The Braves are in very much the same spot. They have counted so heavily on their young bullpen all season long that it has caught up to them, and the relievers appear to be a little tired.
The loss of Tommy Hanson and Jair Jurrjens has been a huge contributor to the problems in Atlanta. I think the Red Sox will hold off the Rays and Angels, but I don't think the Braves will be able to hold off St. Louis.
The Cardinals are very hot right now, and the Braves are struggling. And when you look at their schedules to finish the year, St. Louis has a much more favorable road.
Regardless of how the races turn out, this is the vision I believe Commissioner Bud Selig had in mind when he instituted the Wild Card. It has made for a very interesting final week of the season.
Mitch Williams is an analyst for MLB Network. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.