First of all, I don’t consider the Wilder Card game to be the first round of the playoffs. It feels more like a play-in game outside of the playoffs kind of like those two ridiculous play-in games in the NCAA tournament. If anything, they cheapen the playoffs. That being said, the Wilder Card displayed almost every negative thing possible said by its doubters (myself included).
Baltimore vs. Texas
This game would have happened regardless of the new format, as the two teams finished the season with 93-69 records. As I wrote in an earlier column, the entire American League playoff race played out like it would have under the old format. Four teams fighting for two divisions (six if you include Tampa Bay and the Angels) and ultimately, three playoff spots. Texas losing this game put the finishing touch on a collapse that really hasn’t gotten enough attention. Why didn’t it get more attention? 1 – Because Texas isn’t an East coast team. Had this been the Mets, Yankees, Red Sox, or Phillies, we would have heard more about it than this year’s elections. 2 – They “made the playoffs.” Without the Wilder Card, they would have talked more about game 163 as the Rangers’ last chance to save their season. Instead, we got a passing mention about how they blew the division by getting swept by the A’s at the end of the season. This story should have been enormous – a team in the World Series the past two years coughing up a five game lead with nine to play. Maybe it just happened so quick that nobody could react. Even their no-show in the play-in game went by without much talk, though that may have had more to do with how boring the game was.
In losing 5-1, the Rangers never really threatened once the Orioles took the lead in the 6th inning. They had 7 runners in scoring position on the entire game and their number 3 and 4 hitters (Josh Hamilton and Adrian Beltre, respectively) went a combined 0-8; Hamilton with 2 strikeouts and grounding into a double play. The Orioles weren’t much better, only putting 5 runners in scoring position, but they managed to cash in three of those while striking out 12 times. This game was almost a total dud, and even though it would have happened under the old format, it still makes the Wilder Card oh-for-one.
St. Louis vs. Atlanta
This game is the first of many to come that will prove the idiocy of this format. Forcing two unequal teams to play a 5- or 7-game series at least minimizes luck and misfortune. A one-game playoff spits on the entire regular season, in this case saying that two teams separated by six games in the standings are actually equal. Further compounding this stupidity is the fact that the Giants had the same record as the Braves. So why weren’t they forced to play as well? As advocates of this nonsense repeatedly say “if you don’t like it, win your division” (which the Giants did) as if geography is a valid reason to punish teams that performed better while playing in a tougher division. Getting into the playoffs is the reward for winning a division; they shouldn’t get any more than that.
Having said that, this game is the epitome of dismissing a season, as the Braves played arguably their worst game all season. In what will be known as the Infield Fly Rule Game, the Braves lost 6-3 by virtue of 3 errors and the worst umpiring call since Jim Joyce screwed Armando Galarraga out of a perfect game in 2010. Regardless of what you believe cost Atlanta this game, it shows the inequity of a one game playoff and how luck can affect single games. The worst thing is that it was Chipper Jones’ final game – where he went 1-for-5 at the plate (with a very weak infield single) and committed the most costly error of the three – a sad final memory of a great player. Oh-for-two.