That Was the Wild Card Week That Shouldn’t Have Been
by Jeff Kallman
This article is shared with SSTN with permission
This article originally appeared on the great site Throneberry Fields Forever.
Well, that was fast. Four wild card series, four sweeps. A grand total of two runs scored by both the American League’s losing teams. The National League’s managed to score sixteen between them, but the winners scored 22 between them to the AL winners’ 16. Lovely.
Except for a very few moments among two wild card series winners, saying those winners shot the proverbial fish in the proverbial barrel is something like saying the sun arose, the sky’s blue, the tide’s rushing in, and the television cash kept pouring into MLB’s kitty, properly competitive baseball be damned.
The wild card idea for baseball was dubious from its birth, of course. But the arrival of three wild cards per league has now hit rock bottom. And don’t ask if baseball’s postseason could possibly become any weaker. Someone in the commissioner’s office might hear you and plant the appropriate seed in Rob Manfred’s garden of weeds
Bad enough that the race for the wild cards is a house of cards where legitimate pennant race competition is concerned. Go ahead and say it, go ahead and say you find nothing wrong with the thrills and chills and spills of teams fighting to the last breath to finish . . . well enough in second or even third place to qualify for championship play.
Go ahead and tell me the Rays looked like a fourth-best-regular-season-record team in getting thumped and stumped by the eighth-best Rangers in their own sorry excuse for a ballpark. Go ahead and tell me the ninth-best Blue Jays looked like a worthy postseason team after getting shoved aside by the AL Central champion Twins—the Show’s eleventh-best team on the season.
Go ahead and tell me the thirteenth-best team on the season, the Marlins, had any business being in the postseason with key pitchers injured after getting destroyed by the Phillies. Tell me the NL Central-winning Brewers looked like baseball’s fifth-best regular season team when they got dumped by the twelfth-best Diamondbacks, who may yet receive their own come-uppance from the NL West beasts out of Los Angeles.
The most excitement these wild card games delivered was the Twins’ Royce Lewis becoming the first number one draft pick ever to clear the fences in his first two postseason plate appearances ever, and Phillies second baseman Bryson Stott putting a still-reachable Game Two out of reach with a sixth-inning grand slam to the rear end of the lower right center field seats.
The most ginned up controversy came in Game Two of one of the American League sets, when Blue Jays manager John Schneider lifted his seemingly cruising starting pitcher José Berríos after three shutout innings. Schneider had only been very public saying he was going all pitching hands on deck (minus Game One starter Kevin Gausman) for a game he had to win to stay alive. You expected him to think of less when he’s facing win-or-be-gone that early?
How many stopped to ponder that the Blue Jays bats going missing in action did more damage—well, far more lack of damage—than Schneider lifting a pitcher who might have had maybe two more innings in him during which there was a reasonable chance of him showing how he gets torched as soon as the opposing order’s third time around arrives?
And what about Vladimir Guerrero, Jr., coming off a fine if not superstar regular season, getting careless on second with two out in the top of the fifth and Twins starter Sonny Gray finishing his fifth shutout inning by picking Guerrero’s tail feathers off second cleanly with second and third and Bo Bichette at the plate?
The Twins weren’t exactly causing traffic jams at the plate themselves, not with five runs scored across the set and three courtesy of Lewis. But the Blue Jays’ offensive inertia did far more to cost them than lifting Berríos could have done. This was baseball’s ninth-best regular season team getting pushed, shoved, and bumped home by baseball’s eleventh-best team.
That’s also why the Brewers are going home for the winter sooner than they planned. They needed far more than Christian Yelich and Willy Adames to swing and didn’t get it. And they have other issues to face, too. Their manager becomes a free agent and their two best pitchers—both under one final coming year of team control—may not be getting paid what their worth if they stay in Milwaukee. There may have gone the Brewers’ window for awhile, after winning an NL Central that some say nobody else really wanted to win.
Maybe it’s finally time for the Show’s government to start thinking of four-division leagues, and thus a postseason in which nobody gets to the dance unless their butts were parked in first place when the regular season ended. Maybe it’s time that, once agreeing upon that, each league’s divisions are placed into a pair of conferences with regular-season interleague play sent the way of stone bases once and for bloody all.
Maybe it’s time for best-of-three division series, best-of-five conference series, and the return of the best-of-five League Championship Series. Keeping the World Series prime at a best-of-seven.
Think about it. Commissioner Pepperwinkle and his minions will still get all the postseason games and postseason television money they could fantasize about. But this time, it’d be on behalf of far more honest competition, far more honest pennant races, and nobody on the edges of their seats waiting to see who finishes . . . second and even below.
When the best news of wild card week proved to be Mets general manager Billy Eppler resigning—maybe to duck being canned over forcing now-former manager Buck Showalter to use still-struggling, still-portly Daniel Vogelbach in the 2023 Mets’ lineups, despite his bat proving he didn’t deserve to be there so often, maybe out of Eppler’s need to justify the 2022 deal that brought him aboard in the first place—you know this year’s wild card sets were flushed.
Because we baseball fans, even those attention-deficit fans to whom Commissioner Pepperwinkle seems to pay the most attention anymore, didn’t sign up to see what we saw this week. Not even Lewis and Stott could acquit that.