First off, while I recognize that it departs from my self-proclaimed status as a “baseball purist,” let me preface this by saying that I really love how MLB approaches the postseason now. Some people still clamor for the old system of having two divisions and thus the two division champions going to the LCS series. If you feel that way, I can respect that. However, the fact is that over the years, some really good and deserving teams missed going to the postseason due to that system.
So, the wild card was a welcome addition in my view; however, for quite some time it did in fact take away from the luster of winning the division. But I really like the new system - with the one “Wild Card Game” in each division, and having it be an automatic Game ” in a sense. It rewards two very deserving teams with a shot to compete for a title, and by virtue of the fact that they’re only guaranteed that one game, it places more of an onus on winning the division.
As we all know, the Orioles are a footnote in MLB history as having played in and won the inaugural American League Wild Card Game in 2012. (And for the record the name Joe Saunders is thus a footnote in Orioles’ history, having started the first postseason game for the franchise since 1997.) One year later, neither of the two wild cards advanced past the LDS round; however last year, as we know, both Kansas City and San Francisco met in the World Series after advancing from the wild card games.
So with the O’s currently in contention for a wild card or an American League East division title, the question is which would fans rather see? I suppose that the obvious answer is that the O’s would be better off winning the AL East. Elimination games are pressure-cookers, and obviously you want to stay out of them at all costs (unless you’re the team that could potentially be eliminating someone and you have some wiggle room). But is that overly fatalistic in a sense?
In saying that, I mean that by suggesting that you want to stay out of elimination games, you’re basically saying that you’re afraid of losing the game. And without a doubt, that has to creep into anyone’s mind given the fact that it could be a one-and-done - similar to the NCAA Tournament in college basketball. First off, having to play in the Wild Card Game is much better than going home after the end of the regular season. However in general, is it the worst thing ever?
As much as it ticked Orioles fans off to end up lying in their wake, Kansas City got some great momentum going in that Wild Card Game last year and never really stopped until they fell in the Fall Classic - and even that was a fight. San Francisco didn’t have quite the dramatic type of game in that round; however, they also were able to channel the momentum from that one game and didn’t stop until they had one it all.
So I suppose what I’m saying is that the Wild Card Game can be a great thing - if you win it and then use it to your advantage. Unfortunately, the downside is that if a team has an off-night (as can happen over 162+ games), it’s probably over. So the point is to just win the game and attempt to channel the momentum as you go into the division series. If you can do that and get on a bit of a roll, you never really know where things are going to end up.
Most fans are going to cringe at having to play in that automatic Game 7, and with good reason. But teams like Kansas City were able to use that pressure and that experience to their advantage. Speaking of advantages, also keep in mind that you have to manage games differently in the postseason than you would in the regular season. Take a look back at Game 2 of the ALDS last year at Camden Yards - in a regular season game, does Buck Showalter pull Wei-Yin Chen when he did in that game?
I say this because we all know what an asset and tool the Orioles bullpen is. So in an elimination game, if a starter’s struggling, we know the ‘pen is solid. That should give fans hope.
Domenic Vadala blogs about the Orioles at Birds Watcher, and his opinions appear here as part of MASNsports.com’s season-long initiative of welcoming guest bloggers to our pages. Follow him on Twitter: @DomenicVadala. All opinions expressed are those of the guest bloggers, who are not employed by MASNsports.com but are just as passionate about their baseball as our roster of writers.