The MLB wild card question: Five years later, did the MLB make the right decision?

The MLB wild card question: Five years later, did the MLB make the right decision?

Henry Schweber

Winning the pennant is now much more important than it was before, because if you come in first in the division, you are guaranteed a full series of games in the divisional championship series. If you fall to either wild card spot, your entire season rests on 27 outs. Cruel? Maybe. Exciting? Definitely.

Fans alike love that do or die feel, the fight for a team’s right to continue playing in the playoffs. It’s for this reason that people love a game 7 (in any sport), and this new wild card system allows for two guaranteed ‘game 7′ starts to the postseason, making it exhilarating from the start.

The wild card system in the MLB playoffs was only set in place 2011. The question is, what made the MLB feel inclined to change such a long standing system? The answer is simple: ratings.

With the revitalization of the NBA and the increased popularity, along with the ever-present NFL commanding major sports headlines, the MLB needed to find a way to get itself back into the “big 3” of major American sports. While seemingly simple and borderline uneventful at first, this change actually sparked a whole movement in the MLB, bringing a much needed jolt back into the sport.

Previously, when there was only one wild card team, you’d have less potential variety of teams entering the postseason mix, with some deserving teams falling outside the playoff bubble. While the end of the season pennant races could be fun to watch, often times it left a lot to be desired, generating more “what ifs?” rather than rave reviews.

Teams with a decent position to make the postseason could opt to rest players and not have their foot on the gas the entire season, knowing they’d be entering a long series ahead. With the addition of a second wild card, however, it stressed the importance of going hard for all 162 games.

There’s also the addition of new, never-before-seen strategies when factoring in the one game playoff. For the 2014 San Francisco Giants, they had ace Madison Bumgarner go the distance for a complete game to secure their wild card round victory.

For teams that rely more on pitching depth and hitting however, it may be tricky trying to figure out who should pitch and for how long. Take this week’s American League wild card game for example.

Compiling a 14-6 record with a stellar 2.98 ERA along with an all-star appearance, it seemed clear that Luis Severino would be the New York Yankees’ ace for their matchup with the Twins. After giving up a leadoff home run and then a two-run shot later in the inning, it was clear that Severino was shaken.

Down 3-0 with only one out in the top of the first inning, manager Joe Girardi made a call to the bullpen, ending Severino’s night. In a regular season game, or a previous playoff game, this would be absurd. Your best pitcher leaving a start after recording just one out severely limits your potential, but when it’s a do or die game, managers pull out all the stops.

With a survive-and-advance mentality, managers can roll through relief pitchers or get pinch hitters to exploit the perfect matchup, not being afraid of exhaustion or overuse, because as the saying going “if you win, then you’re in.”

Any of these concerns can be mitigated by making it on to the next round, as the Yankees ended up doing, due to an offensive explosion and a dominant performance from their bullpen. It’s fair to say that the new wild card system has allowed for more excitement from the postseason, and we’ll see if the Yankees can see more success when they face off against the Indians in the ALDS.