To Johnson, winning the division is the only option

PHILADELPHIA - When Major League Baseball made the decision to add another wild card in each league this year, most fans and baseball analysts came out in support of the idea.

The decision would create more excitement over the final weeks of the season, people said, keeping more teams in the playoff picture deep into September and creating the possibility for added dramatic finishes.

Davey Johnson wasn't so keen on the idea of a second wild card, however. In the mind of the Nationals manager, adding another playoff spot in each league took away the significance of winning what used to be the lone wild card and put all that much more pressure on teams to win their division.

"Everybody was all ranting and raving about how wonderful the other wild card is. The way I looked at it, it was the worst thing that could happen," Johnson said yesterday. "The only wild card (made all the) difference back then because you were right in the playoffs. Now you've got a (one-game) playoff. So it really eliminated to me the choices on what you had. You need to win the pennant.

"The wild card, that doesn't even enter the picture. You need to put your ace out to win that game, then you go into the playoffs. To me that didn't help our situation or anybody else's, as far as I'm concerned."

With the new playoff setup, the two wild card teams play a play-in game of sorts to determine which team advances to the division series. The team that loses that one-game playoff goes home, while the winner goes on to play the top seed in its respective league.

But as Johnson mentioned, the winner of the wild card play-in game is at a disadvantage in the divisional round because that team likely will need to use its best pitcher to even insure that it makes it out of the one-game wild card playoff

That puts all that much more pressure on winning the division title. You get an extra day of rest while the wild card teams battle it out and you get to set up your rotation for the postseason. The importance of getting the top seed in each league is also heightened now, because the No. 1 team in each league gets to play the wild card winner, a team which has used its ace and already expended a lot of energy to even reach the divisional series.

"I think that's huge," Johnson said. "It's all about match-ups, but you want to play good enough during the year so you're in the first round of the playoffs, period. Not a (one-game) playoff. I did the math when it first came out and I said I really don't like that added wild card. (It used to be) the wild card was like winning the pennant. Now (there's a) playoff. That ain't nothing. One game? Flip a coin. Burn your ace. That's just the worst possible scenario.

"Maybe it's good for fans in other towns, but as far as managers, we cringe at the thought of another wild card."

Thanks to a Giants win over the Braves last night, the Nationals remain 6 1/2 games up on Atlanta in the National League East entering today's action. That will be the number Johnson is monitoring closely down the stretch as he looks to lock up that division title and not just any old playoff spot.

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