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How I learned to stop worrying and love the wild card

Dec 15, 2010, 10:00 AM EDT

1997 Marlins

The AJC’s Mark Bradley has a column up today with the headline: “With Lee again a Phil, are the Braves playing for the wild card?”

My answer — which I’ve been giving anyone who will listen since midnight Monday — is “Yes. Yes they are.”  Even if you set aside their top two pitchers who will often face opposing aces, they will have a supreme advantage in 60+ starts in which their starters face vastly inferior three and four starters from the opposition.  That’s a recipe for a double-digit division lead, possibly before the All-Star break.

For that reason, I don’t plan on considering Philadelphia as the Braves’ primary competition next year. I’m going to consider the competition to be the Reds, Cardinals, Giants, Dodgers, Cubs, Padres and whoever else might muster enough for a run at the wild card. It’ll make my summer much easier, that’s for sure.

And it’s not like such a thing is defeatism. Why not? Because in 1997, 2000, 2002, 2003, 2005 and 2007, the NL pennant winner was the wild card team. And in 2006 the pennant winner was the weakest of any of the NL playoff representatives during the regular season. And last year’s pennant winner — the Giants — mowed down the Phillies’ already-formidable rotation.

Lament the near impossible task of winning the NL East next year, Braves fans (and Marlins, Mets and Nationals fans), but don’t worry too much if the wild card represents the best shot at your team making the playoffs. NL wild card teams do quite well with that, thank you very much.

  1. BC - Dec 15, 2010 at 10:04 AM

    Lets go Mets! Lets go Mets! Lets….go…. aw hell why bother….

    • sdelmonte - Dec 15, 2010 at 10:22 AM

      Because it’s our team and we root for them to win? Because there is no such thing as a sure thing? Because no one thought the ’08 Rays would be any good?

      I’m not saying I think the Mets will win it all. But I refuse to say “there’s no hope” until it’s been done on the field. And even then, I still don’t give up on my team.

      • BC - Dec 15, 2010 at 10:40 AM

        Talk to me when they’re 10 games out on June 1st.

  2. Brian - Dec 15, 2010 at 10:07 AM

    I don’t think it’s accurate to say the Giants “mowed down” Lee and Doc and Cole and Oswalt. Yes, they were not perfect, but they all pitched (for the most part) well enough to win, the offense just went to sleep.

    • phillygirl4 - Dec 15, 2010 at 10:23 AM

      agreed! I was just thinking that. It’s not like they swept us. The games were close.

      Also – as much as I love the “Philly will dominate the NL East”…I’m very uneasy about people handing us anything. In Philly we have learned that if anything can go wrong, it probably will.

      • Jonny 5 - Dec 15, 2010 at 12:40 PM

        Exactly… The Phillies bats let down the pitching staff who did very well imo.

      • WhenMattStairsIsKing - Dec 15, 2010 at 2:24 PM

        That lineup has to hold up, first of all.

    • jkcalhoun - Dec 15, 2010 at 10:26 AM

      2-5, 4.17 ERA against the G-men, a full run and a third higher than they compiled as a group during the regular season. Not good enough to win against a dominant pitching staff.

      Sorry you missed it. Was a great postseason.

      • Utley's Hair - Dec 15, 2010 at 11:33 AM

        How could they go 2-5 in a seven game series that only went six games?

      • Brian - Dec 15, 2010 at 11:46 AM

        what do you think the outcome would have been if the Phillies had, you know, hit like they were “supposed” to? Face it, the Phillies offense slumped and they frequently made it easy on guys like Sanchez, who, let’s face it, sucked royally. If they had buried Sanchez like they should have, this would be a different discussion. So yes, had the Phillies hit like they had been hitting for most of the year, they probably would have beaten the Giants. The Giants pitching wasn’t dominant. Cain was. Lincecum was good but could have been beaten if the Phillies capitalized on their chances (which they didn’t). Sanchez was a train wreck. Halladay, on the other hand, threw an entire game on one leg. I know that’s not really quantifiable but it’s worth something in my book.

        Also keep in mind that overall, the Giants had one more earned run than the Phillies did in the series. 1. And 2 more runs overall. Seems pretty close to me and contradicts the idea that the Giants pitching was vastly superior and dominant to the Phillies. If two pitching staffs hold their opponents to such a tight margin, it’s all on the offense, and the Phillies offense let them down.

      • jkcalhoun - Dec 15, 2010 at 5:49 PM

        How could they go 2-5? I believe we’re talking about the Phillies’ 2011 rotation, and Lee pitched in a couple of games this year after the 2010 Phillies went home. I’m not sure if Craig was including Lee in his original comments about who the Giants “mowed down” this year, but he matters for 2011, so I included him.

    • Chris Fiorentino's Rash - Dec 15, 2010 at 10:34 AM

      Pitching shut outs (or better) is well enough to win.

    • Mr. Jason "El Bravo" Heyward - Dec 15, 2010 at 10:38 AM

      rrrright….way to rewrite history. The Giants beat the Phils in every aspect of the game of baseball during that series. No one played the Giants more closely than the Braves did in the NLDS (not the Phils; not the Rangers). Look forward to a good 2011 season with a lot of potential and stop revising the past. You lost, move on.

      • Chris Fiorentino's Rash - Dec 15, 2010 at 11:08 AM

        ugh.. these grapes are sour..

      • Brian - Dec 15, 2010 at 11:49 AM

        no they didn’t. It was a tight series. See my earlier comment about the runs scored. There were no blowouts. No one ran away with anything. I think a lot of people are overvaluing the Giants’ performance in the NLCS. They were a better team but only because the Phillies beat themselves.

      • Brian - Dec 15, 2010 at 11:51 AM

        Also, I’m criticizing the Phillies yet I’m accused of sour grapes. I don’t get that.

      • Mr. Jason "El Bravo" Heyward - Dec 15, 2010 at 12:36 PM

        You’re criticizing the Giants by saying they didn’t win, but instead the Phils “beat themselves”, which is utterly absurd. Thus, sour grapes. Give credit where it’s due: The San Francisco Giants.

      • Gold Bond cream for my rash - Dec 15, 2010 at 12:41 PM

        The Phillies choked. Plain and simple. Game 6…8th inning…tie score…towels waving like crazy…and “Mad Dog” Madsen gives up a bomb to Uribe of all people. Makes me violently ill just thinking about it again. If they don’t choke that game, I still believe they bomb Cain the second time around in Game 7 at home with the towels going crazy. Then again, if my Aunt had balls, she would be my Uncle so WTF does all that really amount to? Jack Sh*t.

      • Brian - Dec 15, 2010 at 1:08 PM

        i’m specifically saying that the Phillies were the worst of the 2 teams. But I’m also saying it was within their grasp to win it. They could have won it, but they didn’t. The two teams were so evenly matched it’s not a slight or sour grapes to say that. Before the series started it was a toss up.

        do you honestly think the giants would have won if the Phillies played like they did up until that point?

      • Chris Fiorentino - Dec 15, 2010 at 1:40 PM

        Hold on a second Brian…that’s where I have to get off the bus. The two teams, before the series, were NOT evenly matched. The Phillies were almost 3 to 1 favorites(-$260) in Las Vegas for a reason…they were the much better team top to bottom. They simply choked and the Giants were game enough to take advantage. If they played that series 10 times, the Phillies would win 7 out of 10. Just because it didn’t work out that way doesn’t make it true.

      • Brian - Dec 15, 2010 at 1:46 PM

        I should clarify: it was my perception they were evenly matched based on circumstance. the phillies offense showed signs of cooling in the NLDS. It definitely put them on par with the Giants. Pitching was a wash, despite what the media said about it. If you take the Phillies and the Giants as they were playing at that moment (throwing away “on paper” projections and past performances) the two teams were on an even keel. It was a close series and that’s why.

  3. Rosenthals Speling Instrukter - Dec 15, 2010 at 10:28 AM

    Bob Costas still thinks it is a bad idea. I still remember the WS in 1997 and him bitching about the wildcard during games.

  4. nps6724 - Dec 15, 2010 at 10:28 AM

    Sorry Craig, but it is defeatism. We’re still over 3 months from Opening Day and you’re already declaring the Phils NL East champs? They gained a great picture, but their biggest issue last year was offense. Can J-Roll stop his recent decline, which dates back to his MVP season in ’07? Can Ibanez remain productive at 39? Will Utley’s hip continue to be a problem? Will Howard return to form? Can Brown take over for Werth and produce at least half as well? Can Ruiz keep up his numbers after a career year?

    Should they be the favorites? Absolutely. 3 consecutive NL East titles, 3 consecutive NLCS appearances, have appeared in 2 of the last 3 WS. But let’s at least get to Opening Day before conceding.

    • Utley's Hair - Dec 15, 2010 at 11:59 AM

      That would be 4 straight NL East titles.

  5. Jonny 5 - Dec 15, 2010 at 12:09 PM

    I see your point, it makes a lot of sense. And it’ll keep you relatively sane. Good plan. I’m still in complete and total shock though.

    The Braves have a good shot at it though, they did pick up Uggly, and he’s a pretty big offensive plus. They were really good last season. As a matter of fact they did the most damage to the Giants in the playoffs of any team imo.

    • Mr. Jason "El Bravo" Heyward - Dec 15, 2010 at 12:37 PM

      I’m going to go with the Braves as the 2011 NL East winners….mainly for argument’s sake….and because I may be high or something.

      • Utley's Hair - Dec 15, 2010 at 12:59 PM

        For argument’s sake?

        It sounds to me like you’re trying to rattle Fiorentino’s cage…so you may very well be high on something.

      • Jonny 5 - Dec 15, 2010 at 1:20 PM

        My choice is to keep it zipped, and watch it all unfold one beautiful game at a time. No argument here buddy.

      • Chris Fiorentino - Dec 15, 2010 at 1:42 PM

        After last year, I won’t be bold enough to make any World Series predictions. However, I don’t even think an act of God will be able to stop the Phillies from winning at least 93 games next year. If that happens, they will at worst get the Wild Card. They are making the playoffs. You can MARK IT DOWN!!!(LOL)

  6. tomemos - Dec 15, 2010 at 12:26 PM

    This has been up for a while, but you’ve got an ambiguous pronoun in the second sentence (“they” refers to the Phillies but the antecedent would seem to be the Braves).

    • Utley's Hair - Dec 15, 2010 at 12:35 PM

      That threw me a little, too, but Craig is a lawyer, and most legal writing seems designed to confuse people, so I gave him a pass.

  7. macjacmccoy - Dec 15, 2010 at 4:06 PM

    I dont care how good or bad the Rockies are suppose to be they always some how some way muster a wildcard run. You cant leave them out.

  8. macjacmccoy - Dec 15, 2010 at 4:13 PM

    And last year’s pennant winner — the Giants — mowed down the greatest player in baseball history Jason Heyward and the 2010 HBT predicted NL East winning Braves.

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