03/02/12 2:11 PM ET
Expanded Wild Card a big hit at spring camps
By Evan Drellich / MLB.com
Starting this season, there will be two Wild Card teams in each league, with those clubs getting pitted against each other in a one-game playoff for the right to move on to the Division Series. The rest of the playoff structure remains the same as it has since realignment in 1994.
"Everybody remembers that Day 162 last year and how exciting that was," said Cardinals manager Mike Matheny, whose club squeezed into the playoffs on the final day of the 2011 regular season before going on to a World Series championship under former skipper Tony La Russa. "Anything you throw the fans at this point [is good]. We all see the benefit of how the Wild Card played out. There were a lot of people against it at the time [it was proposed], and it proved to make some very meaningful games for some teams who otherwise wouldn't have had anything going on. I think they're making some good decisions. The decisions they've made in the past have proven to be right. It will be fun to watch how it all plays out."
The potential benefits to the new system are manifold. Every season now, there's guaranteed to be at least two one-game playoffs, which inherently creates drama and interest. It also gives additional teams a crack at the postseason and adds more value to winning a division: when you do, you skip right ahead to the five-game Division Series instead of facing the madness of an anything-can-happen individual contest.
"I'm not sure if there's any cons," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. "I think one of the pros is it adds more teams to the mix, keeps more teams in it for a longer period of time. The one-game playoff -- if you're in a division race, you don't want to be in that one-game playoff. Your motivation is to win the division, because that becomes much, much tougher. But that's going to provide a lot of excitement, because you might, in a sense, have two one-game playoffs, just because you might have two teams that tied to see who gets the last spot. That will provide a lot of exciting."
Added Angels outfielder Vernon Wells: "You've got a whole other city in the race, it makes it that much more excitement."
The Rangers' Ian Kinsler and Michael Young felt similarly.
Detractors, though -- or at least those who aren't fully sold -- point to many of the same issues proponents identify as beneficial. Baseball has long been unique amongst the professional sports in how few of its teams make the postseason, and there's fear of a scenario where a 95-win Wild Card team could fall to an 85-win team.
The Braves would have been involved in the one-game Wild Card playoff last year, but instead, their end-of-season spiral left them on the outside looking in. Still, potential Hall of Famer Chipper Jones believes the former system was adequate.
"I'm not for it," Jones said. "I think the elite teams deserve to make it to the playoffs. Pretty soon, Major League Baseball is going to be like the NBA. There will be more teams that make it than don't. The season is too long as it is. Now you're going to give teams more travel. I don't agree with it, but we're just a piece of meat. We do what they tell us to."
One of baseball's truisms is that you can't worry about factors outside of your own control, and that's how Reds manager Dusty Baker looks at the possibility of some intense travel after game No. 162: "We'll worry about that when we get there. It's a long and winding road to get there."
For most teams, the reality now centers on winning the division.
In 2010, the Yankees were in a position that they did not have to fight for the American League East because they knew if they won the Wild Card, they could enter the playoffs on the same footing as the eventual division winner, the Rays. New York rested up for the playoffs instead.
So as much as some might dislike the new system, the old had its flaws. The difference for players now is that there's a clear way to avoid being a in a situation where you might feel slighted: just go out and grab your division crown.
"We conceded the division two years ago because of the previous setup," Yankees general manager Brian Cashman said. "I'm not taking away from Tampa Bay's Eastern Division title, but we didn't try to win the division. We tried to line ourselves up for the playoffs and that worked. We wound up sweeping Minnesota and going to play the Texas Rangers two years ago because we got our guys healthy and ready to go. The division title, the way that Wild Card situation was sitting, was rendered meaningless the way the setup was."