September 17, 2021
With 14 games left to play in the 2021 season, I’m beginning to come around on the idea of the dual wild card system.
I wasn’t thrilled when Major League Baseball announced that there would be two wild card playoff teams per league back in 2012. Growing up, one of the things that made baseball special was the very limited playoff field. Nothing short of winning your division would get you into the playoffs, a two-round, four-team tournament consisting of only the League Championship Series and the World Series. It was an archaic system that was long overdue for change, so I was receptive when a single wild card team was added to each league back in 1995. Not to mention the fact that adding an extra round got the Red Sox into a playoff series that year … briefly.
Two wild card teams in each league, however, was too much for me. It felt like MLB’s attempt to draw higher playoff ratings simply by throwing in teams that didn’t deserve to be there. Sure, the concept of a one-game playoff is certainly exciting, The nature of baseball is not really conducive to a one-game, winner-take-all battle, which made it feel so special any time a 163rd game was organically forced because two teams finished a six-month grind with the exact same record.
It was as if the league had to throw its hands up and say, “for God’s sake, 162 games couldn’t figure this out?! OK, just play one more, I guess.” Outside of the annual wild card playoff games that started in 2012, there have only been 16 one-game playoffs in the 14,000 years Major League Baseball has been in existence. Each time it happened, the atmosphere was nothing short of electric.
I admire the way MLB has never stooped to using obscure tiebreaker stats like division record, league record, head-to-head record, etc. to determine who makes the playoffs. These guys kill themselves three hours a day every day for half a year to make the postseason. They deserve the chance to put it all on the line and compete on the field for that right.
The idea of two one-game playoffs every single year, however, is a very different animal. When something is rare and exciting, it becomes less exciting the less rare it becomes. When you know that there will be a one-game wild card playoff in the American League and National League every single year, the winner-take-all format is no longer special.
I may have to change my tune this year. Not just because the Red Sox will hopefully compete in their very first wild card game in 2021, but because of the heated three-team American League race to October that is happening as we speak.
The Red Sox, Yankees, and Blue Jays are embroiled in a 14-game sprint (no longer a marathon) just to see which two will win the right to face each other for a chance to play in the American League Division Series. We have a pennant race simply to determine who will get the chance to compete in what is essentially a one-game tiebreaker.
If that’s not exciting enough for you, chew on the fact that these three teams all play in the same division. Three teams that are 17 or 18 games above .500 play in the same division, are basically the only American League teams still competing for a playoff spot, and none of them are even in first place! Boston, New York, and Toronto will be killing themselves for the next two-and-a-half weeks just to get to the dance, all while the first place Rays are chillin’ at 35 games over .500 just watching it all play out. How stacked is the AL East?
The 2021 Red Sox season has played out like a David Lynch movie. I didn’t expect much at the beginning, but it sucked me in from the start and hooked me even though I didn’t really understand what I was watching. Like Mulholland Drive and Lost Highway, the Red Sox didn’t look great on paper, but were impressive and exciting right up until the halfway mark. Then frustration set in when I discovered that I had no idea what the hell was happening. How could something so good turn on a dime into such indecipherable crap? Is it good? Is it bad? Is it just hovering temporarily in this state of foolishness before turning things around in Act 3?
And now here we are, fifteen minutes from the end of the movie, no clearer now on what we’ve seen than we were at the midpoint. As if the erratic offense, inconsistent pitching, dismal baserunning, and horrid defense weren’t annoying enough, an interminable Covid outbreak gets dropped on us like the dwarf scene in Twin Peaks, inserted for no reason other than to piss us off even more.
With Chris Sale scheduled to return to the mound Friday night, Christian Arroyo and Matt Barnes are the only players of significance that are still sidelined by Covid. Let’s hope this season changes from a Lynch auteur piece to a Michael Bay film so Arroyo and Barnes can kick in the front door and blow away the Yankees and Blue Jays in a hail of bullets that somehow results in only a few drops of spilt blood.
One thing you can’t dismiss about this Red Sox team is the way they keep fighting. Each of their three losses during this past week’s road trip in Chicago and Seattle were one-run games, and each win was a nail-biter until at least the eighth inning. They’ve patched together enough wins with a makeshift team to stay in the wild card hunt for a month now. With the team almost back intact just in time for the mad dash to the finish line, I’m hoping we will finally be reminded once again of what this team can do with a full major league caliber roster. That is, of course, if nobody else tests positive.
Of course, the only way to prevent any more positive cases may be to stop testing everybody … ya know, the way Major League Baseball advised the Red Sox to do, according to Hunter Renfroe. It looks like the Yankees and Blue Jays, along with most of the other teams in the league, threw out their testing kits long ago. Otherwise, the Red Sox wouldn’t be the only team still dealing with this problem.
#RedSox OF Hunter Renfroe on team's COVID issues:
"MLB basically told us to stop the testing and just treat the symptoms. We're like "No. We're gonna figure out what's going and keep this thing under control.""@LouMerloni: MLB asked you to stop testing?
Renfroe: "Yes." pic.twitter.com/0UpKdvqtGG
— Merloni & Fauria (@MerloniFauria) September 9, 2021
While we’re discussing the Yankees, allow me to take a quick victory lap. Remember after the trade deadline, when the whole world was convinced that the Red Sox were boned because they let the Yankees pick up Anthony Rizzo and Joey Gallo while the Red Sox acquired nothing but Kyle Schwarber? The Yankees proceeded to rack up 13 straight wins to pull ahead of Boston, evidently set to bury the Red Sox’ season. Has anybody paid attention to what happened to the Yankees since then?
Just as I knew it would, baseball reared its beautiful head and reminded the Yankees that nobody can escape this game’s inevitability (except maybe the Rays). The Yankees followed up their 13-game winning streak by losing 12 of their next 15 games. As blown away as everyone was by New York’s post-deadline surge, the losing streak that followed resulted in a net gain of a whopping 4 wins over 28 games (16-12).
Then you have the Blue Jays, who followed up a crummy August by virtually not losing at all in September. The Jays are 13-2 this month, wiping the floor with good teams like the Yankees, A’s, and Rays in the process. They are the scariest of the three teams in this chase, with a lethal lineup and the best starting rotation Toronto has seen since the Juan Guzman – Jimmy Key – Jack Morris – David Wells – David Cone years. The best case scenario is that baseball smacks them around for being too prideful the way it just did to the Yankees, to the extent that Toronto finds themselves on the outside looking in.
Because the Blue Jays are the last team I want to face in a wild card game. Vlad Guerrero Jr., George Springer, Marcus Semien, Bo Bichette, Randal Grichuk, Jose Berrios, Robbie Ray, and the rest of those dudes need to be golfing on October 4th. Because even with Chris Sale pitching in a wild card game, I have no doubt that the Blue Jays can put up a crooked number any inning starting from any part of their lineup against any pitcher. They may have no playoff experience, but that team has the bats to mash their way to victory against anybody and, for the first time in years, the arms to prevent them from blowing a big lead.
And let’s be honest … is there any satisfactory scenario for the AL wild card game that doesn’t involve the Red Sox matching up with the Yankees? Toronto is an exciting team that will be good for a number of years, but nothing in baseball can top a good Red Sox team vs a good Yankees team. Major League Baseball wants it, the fans want it, even the baseball gods want it.
Of course, don’t be surprised if all three teams implode and we end up seeing the A’s face the Mariners. After all, this is a David Lynch movie. Nothing makes sense.