When I first learned that MLB would be adding an extra wild card team to each league starting this season, at first, I couldn't get my head around how that would be done. After all, postseason baseball usually involves "best of" series. Would they be playing the World Series on Thanksgiving? However, once it looked like the Pirates would have an actual shot at one of these spots, I decided to really research it, and I was amazed to discover that the wild card teams would have a one game "playoff" a couple of days after the regular season, and the winner of that game would advance to the LDS. Essentially, it just added a little more incentive for a team to win its division and created a "bye" for the ones who do--unlike in previous years when the wild card winner would already be in the LDS, the new system would require wild card teams to work just a bit harder to get to where they ultimately wanted to be.
I then fell in love with the concept. I love the idea of more teams having a shot at the postseason. It adds excitement to the final weeks, as more teams and fans can dream of a shot at the World Series. Of course, if you're a Pirates fan, you know how agonizing the last couple of months were and how the new playoff format kept you tuning in even though the Pirates were on life support starting around the end of August. Teams like the Cardinals and Dodgers were practically begging the Pirates to jump up and grab the second NL wild card spot, but the Buccos were like, "no, you go ahead. You can have it."
Even though the Pirates were mercifully eliminated from this dance, I was still intrigued to see how a team would celebrate clinching a spot in the wild card playoff game. I actually envisioned a mild celebration, as players and fans knew they still had extra work to do in order to advance to the LDS, but I never in my wildest dreams thought that teams would break out the champagne and have wild clubhouse celebrations. If you click on that link, you'll see that MLB even handed out "Playoffs!" hats and shirts for the special occasion--talk about your shameless marketing.
The Texas Rangers and Oakland A's are in a heated race for the AL West division and are currently in the throes of a very dramatic end of season series. Monday night, the then second place A's officially clinched at least a wild card spot with a 4-3 victory over Texas, and they celebrated like they had just won the World Series. It might have been the first time in the history of baseball that the second place team got to have a raucous celebration before the first place team. As of this writing, the A's and Rangers are in a tie for first place on the last day of the season. If the A's win today, are they going to have another wild celebration? And since the Rangers are obviously already guaranteed at least a wild card spot, are they going to celebrate even if they lose today's game?
Don't these wild card teams realize that they're only a couple of days and about 9 innings away from possibly being in the same boat as all the other teams who didn't clinch a wild card spot? The wild card playoff games in each league will be played this Friday, and they will have all the drama and tension of a 7th game. If it were up to me, I'd save my wild celebrations for after that game. If you win, you'll be in the LDS and guaranteed at least three more games. But what if you lose?................ Are teams going to wonder why they went through all that trouble of celebrating? Are they going to burn those "Playoffs!" t-shirts and drink sour milk? To me, clinching a berth in the wild card game is only half the battle. It's like a football team going nuts after a touchdown even though it was down by eight points before the score and still needs to go for a two-point conversion in-order to tie the game. If you fail to make the two-point conversion, well, you celebrated for nothing.
The winners of this Friday's wild card games are going to have another wild celebration, no doubt, but the division winners who they will be facing next will have long-ago folded up their "Division!" t-shirts and will be well-rested.
Now that's how you clinch a wild card spot.