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The NL Wild Card race: less-than-inspiring

Aug 19, 2014, 11:02 AM EDT

B.J. Upton, Alan Porter AP

There will be two teams who win the NL Wild Card. When they do, they will technically be considered “playoff teams.” I know that sounds crazy, but it’s true! Someone actually has to win these two spots. And the candidates are all pretty darn “meh.”

  • Cardinals: They have a negative seven run differential on the year and, as the reigning NL Pennant winners, were pretty much picked by everyone to win their division. They may be the most talented of the contenders, but they’re probably the most underachieving of them.
  • Giants: Nine under .500 since the beginning of June.
  • Braves: On a four-game winning streak, but three under .500 since the beginning of June and are being left in the dust in their division race.
  • Pirates: Much better in the second half than San Francisco and Atlanta, but losers of six straight. That they’re only two back in the Wild Card despite that and despite being without Andrew McCutchen and Gerrit Cole speaks volumes about this race.
  • Marlins: Playing good baseball and, unlike all of these other teams, not disappointments. But they did just reach .500 on Sunday.

I’ll be nice and not include the Reds, Mets and Padres as “contenders,” even though they’re not soooo far back that it would take a miracle for them to get into the conversation.

Given that the Pirates are getting McCutchen and Cole back this week and given that they’re not likely to play as poorly as they have for the past week for long, I suppose they’re the favorite for the second slot. Maybe St. Louis for the first, still. But man, this is not exactly a clash of the titans here.

 

  1. hojo20 - Aug 19, 2014 at 11:18 AM

    Time for a third wild card?

    • Old Gator - Aug 19, 2014 at 12:16 PM

      There is a third wild card. Whoever takes it gets to go camping, fishing and hunting in October.

      • recoveringcubsfan - Aug 19, 2014 at 1:02 PM

        Wait, aren’t there 20 of those cards?

  2. wonkypenguin - Aug 19, 2014 at 11:29 AM

    I say set up the non-division winners in a Final Four style bracket and let them have at it for the final two spots.

    • nothanksimdriving123 - Aug 19, 2014 at 2:59 PM

      Is the goal here to have the World Series compete with the NHL Winter Classic on New Year’s Day?

      • wonkypenguin - Aug 19, 2014 at 4:20 PM

        While I am 100% kidding about this, I would just like to point out that a 12-team (which is totally not ideal in terms of bracketing but it’s what we have to work with) tournament would take, like, 4 days to complete. Obviously they can play every day and be one-and-done. It could be over just as quickly as the current schedule including the 1-game playoffs.

        So you can object to my absurd suggestion on many merits but “length of time it would take” isn’t one of them.

  3. karlkolchak - Aug 19, 2014 at 11:38 AM

    This is why the second wild card is a joke–and the first one was bad enough. Go back to 4 divisions, as 162 games is plenty to determine a final four. Of course they won’t because: $$$$$$$$$$$$.

    • racksie - Aug 19, 2014 at 12:34 PM

      I originally didn’t like the addition of the first wild card. Then I grew to enjoy it. it did add some excitemnt at the end of the year. But the second one is really a bad idea. Wait until we have a couple of ties at the end of the season and have to add two playoff games to determine a wild card team. And the season ends in December.

      • 18thstreet - Aug 19, 2014 at 1:34 PM

        The idea of the second one is to make sure that the team that WINS the wild card game is at a disadvantage in the playoffs. The division winners get an extra day (or two) of rest, allowing them to set their rotation. Meanwhile, a team like the Mariners ideally uses its best pitcher in a one-game playoff, harming their chances in the playoffs.

        I like it.

      • erbaodai - Aug 20, 2014 at 12:23 AM

        @18thstreet So teams like the A’s or the Angels should be punished for playing in a tougher division? Think this: if the 2nd WC existed back in 2001, the 102-win A’s would have to gamble on a one-game playoff, simply because they played in the same division with the 116-win Mariners. That’s beyond absurd.

  4. dondada10 - Aug 19, 2014 at 11:40 AM

    Usually I’m a proponent of eliminating divisions and balancing the schedules. Let the top 4, not 5, teams in each League make the playoffs.

    In this case, however, I don’t think it would matter.

    • simon94022 - Aug 19, 2014 at 6:10 PM

      If everybody played the same “balanced” 162 game schedule, then the only fair result would be to have NO playoffs and just crown the first place team champion.

      In a balanced schedule, why should there be a playoff among the top 2, 4, 6 or whatever? That sounds like the lame Temple Cup from the 1890s, when there was only one league with 12 teams and no divisions. At least in that era the the regular season first place team was universally recognized as the real champion regardless of the post-season result. The only justification for having playoffs is that the teams involved have played different schedules. Therefore their won-lost records are not an apples-to-oranges comparison.

  5. thomas844 - Aug 19, 2014 at 11:59 AM

    The Reds were in great position to run away with a Wild Card spot and maybe even compete for the division at the All Star break, but they just laid down and peed themselves ever since.

  6. stex52 - Aug 19, 2014 at 12:04 PM

    How about a double elimination tournament for each league at the end of the season? Fifteen teams is almost perfect; you could give the team with the best record a bye into the second round of the Winner’s bracket.

    Bracketed double elimination is about the most exciting baseball there is. And, since we are headed in the direction of everyone getting to the playoffs, we might as well jump the shark.

    It will take about two weeks, though. You can’t run the games all together due to pitching limitations.

  7. recoveringcubsfan - Aug 19, 2014 at 12:07 PM

    It’s a bit too early to dig any graves, don’t you think? Sure, a lot of patients in the hospital are doing poorly, but nobody’s dead yet and treatments are ongoing. Also, on the Braves: had they lost 4 instead of winning, they’d be 10 back. Instead, they’re 6 back and I don’t know a single DC can who thinks that’s enough to write them off.

    Finally, what is happening in the picture? Whatever it is, I love it.

    • natstowngreg - Aug 19, 2014 at 2:16 PM

      Agreed.

      Looks like the Nats have their groove thing back. Each day the status remains quo, they’re a day closer to clinching. It’s nice to think about the playoffs (can’t wait to get my playoff tickets). Optimism reigns in Nats Town right now, and appropriately so. But 39 games are more than enough for things to go south. Figuratively and literally.

    • NatsLady - Aug 19, 2014 at 2:26 PM

      Well, this DC can went through endless iterations of the Nats having a 15% chance of getting a Wild Card last year–day after day in August and early September of Werth busting his a** and the team being on a hot streak–and still not getting there.

      Bottom line, it’s very, very hard to overcome the percentages and I haven’t see evidence that Atlanta is the team to do it. It would take them going on a long win streak (which they could) but it would ALSO take the Nats going on a long losing streak (which they haven’t, and which their pitching says they won’t). Ryan Zimmerman’s been out since July 23, and Jayson Werth didn’t play for a week. The Nats still went 16-10.

      The Nats see the finish line in sight. It’s less than two weeks until the bullpen will get some help. Mike Rizzo didn’t get David Price or John Lester. Nevertheless, he made two smart moves (Asdrubal Cabrera and Matt Thornton) to patch up weaknesses. (Hard to say if Nate Schierholtz will have any impact, since he would basically replace Nate McLouth.)

      Yes, I understand Game 5. I was there. But the Nats are sitting on a 98% chance of winning the Division (per Fangraphs). Baseball References SRS has Atlanta as a -0.1 team and the Nats as the best team in the NL at +0.6. I gave ‘em my credit card for playoff strips.

  8. racksie - Aug 19, 2014 at 12:28 PM

    After a few years of legitimate, and exciting game 163’s they decided to manufacture excitement. And it has done the exact opposite. The legitimate 163’s were for a division. Not manufactured for revenue. The wild car game was just a bad idea.

  9. ud1951 - Aug 19, 2014 at 12:56 PM

    Craig might want to bookmark this piece, as has happened frequently in baseball history, at least since the wild card was instituted, the underachievers and poor teams of August, who barely squeeze into the playoffs, turn into October juggernauts and win the whole thing.

    So bookmark it, you’ll want the link in the article you write in late October as the Giants, Braves, Cardinals, Marlins or Pirates are one win away from a sweep of the WS. You can’t say that’s never happened and if it has before, it can again. And those other teams you mentioned could do what the Cardinals did in 1964 (On August 16, the Cardinals were 61-54 and 9 1⁄2 games out of first place). They went 32-15 to end the season in first place and went on to win the World Series. Baseball is far less predictable than you might think.

  10. Paper Lions - Aug 19, 2014 at 1:14 PM

    The Pirates aren’t the only team that has been missing key players, by no means an exhaustive list, but these guys have missed significant time:

    Cardinals: Wacha, Garcia, Molina

    Braves: Beachy, Floyd, Venters, Medlen

    Giants: Belt, Cain, Pagan

    Marlins: Fernandez

    Reds: Votto, Bailey, Phillips, Marshall

    Every team has to deal with injuries….many of them having key players miss a LOT more time than anything the Pirates have experienced thus far.

    • SocraticGadfly - Aug 19, 2014 at 1:30 PM

      Right … it’s a mix of underachieving, bad management and injuries in St. Louis.

      • Paper Lions - Aug 19, 2014 at 1:34 PM

        Yeah, there isn’t one reason for the team sucking. First and foremost is under performance of the players, second is injuries, anything else is a very distant 3rd.

  11. penguins87and71 - Aug 19, 2014 at 1:43 PM

    Even though the Pirates are struggling right now, I think they will be one of the two NL Wildcards. They’re getting healthy. When the Pirates are healthy, they are one of the better teams in the NL.

  12. geejon - Aug 19, 2014 at 2:05 PM

    I don’t understand why the 2 wild card teams are considered playoff teams. As far as I’m concerned, the team that wins that game is a playoff team. How ridiculous is it when a team has a champagne party in the clubhouse after game 162 because it made the WC game and they have the game the next evening and get eliminated and sent home til spring training. Hugh? At least the winner gets a legit series against a division winner. To me, that’s a playoff team. But whatever, I guess its just a technicality that doesn’t mean much.

    Honestly I was fine with the 1 wild card. Many times has been the case where the wild card team had a better record than a division winner so they should make the playoffs. Then you had 2 series. It was fine. This extra game is a gimmick that wasn’t necessary imo.

  13. rcali - Aug 19, 2014 at 3:50 PM

    Why does “Race” always have be to be involved!

    • nothanksimdriving123 - Aug 19, 2014 at 11:10 PM

      It’s like that in the Olympics too, in track and in swimming. And all those PC announcers are forever going on about how some races are “longer” than others and how some have hurdles others don’t have. Makes me sick.

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