October looks to be a lot more interesting when the two highest wild-card finishers in each league face off in a sudden death, one-and-done matchup to enter the division series.
In the first year of this new playoff format, teams are going to be entering foreign territory as they plan for their July trade deadline push, considering they have double the chances of making it as a wildcard team.
As supposed to most years, where division races are evident by mid-July and teams are beginning to see their destiny weeks before the July 31 deadline, this year will be completely different.
All teams, with the exception of a few bottom feeders, will be looking to add impact players hoping to leapfrog into those two wild-card spots. Is it realistic for 80 percent of teams to be attempting to be buyers?
Conventional logic says no, but this year will separate who is really serious about making a push and who is content waiting and seeing what transpires with the team they have currently.
With the success of wild-card teams in recent years, no team is going to view a playoff birth as anything short of what it is—a chance at glory. Not just the San Francisco Giants playing the Anaheim Angels in 2002, the first all-wild-card World Series, wild-card teams have been widely successful in the playoffs over its entire existence.
According to Phil Rogers at the Chicago Tribune:
“In the 17 seasons MLB has had wildcards in the playoffs, 11 of 34 World Series teams have been wild cards, including the Cardinals team that upset the Rangers in 2011. That means almost one out of every three wild-card teams has won a pennant, truly beating the odds as they account for only one out of four playoff teams.
There's no reason a second wild-card team should reduce the final-week drama, and it might even increase it. The number of teams grinding into September will go up, and that should be good for fans.”
Currently, there are only four teams in the entire major leagues that are more than 10 games out of a playoff spot. All four of those teams reside in the National League, and, of those four teams, the Colorado Rockies have the oldest average age of still less than 30 years old.
Basically, the four teams that are out of it—the Rockies, the Houston Astros, the Chicago Cubs and the San Diego Padres—do not have the veteran talent that contending teams are searching for to bolster their rosters.
With this new playoff format, it could very easily turn into a new normal where trading is at a minimum and the philosophy is to “win with what you got.” Since more teams are going to be under the impression that they are in the hunt, the price for the scarce bats and arms on the market will be shot to new levels.
The outcome of the next month could leave general managers, owners and scouting directors all wishing the old system was back in place—even if their team was left outside.
Alfonso Soriano of the Cubs, Justin Morneau of the Minnesota Twins, Chase Headley of the Padres and Carlos Gonzalez of the Rockies are the big bats being dangled, but what will the exorbitant price be is undetermined. The fact that there are about 20 buyers on the market means that polished talent not in the twilight of their careers will take heaven and earth in order to acquire.
Should teams hold pat and not mortgage the future just because of this one transition year that can make the NL East last-place Philadelphia Phillies feel like they still have a shot?
Should a team like the Milwaukee Brewers, defending NL Central champions, dangle Zack Greinke on a thin market? The Brewers find themselves only 5.5 games back of the wild card and seven games back of the current NL Central leading Cincinnati Reds.
Should the Phillies deal Cole Hamels away, even though they are about to get fully healthy for the first time all season?
The Phillies will not go quietly into the night, especially since, at only eight games back in the NL East, this could be one of their last chances with their aging core of talent.
Granted, over the next few weeks the Phillies could tank and end up dangling Shane Victorino, Mike Fontenot, Ty Wigginton and Kyle Kendrick. This would open up the market for teams in need of quality bats and a starting pitcher, but if the Phillies pull within five games of the two wild-card spots, do not expect them to make any moves except adding whomever they can find.
Parody is the name of the game this season, with a ton of middling teams causing a glut of teetering general managers not sure whether to go all in, play it out straight or build for the future.
With recent perennial contenders like the Phillies and the Rays looking up at upstart teams such as the Washington Nationals and Baltimore Orioles, the question will be is this a changing of the guard or will experience win out and lead the Phillies, Rays, and Red Sox to rise back up in the playoff push.
The hype surrounding the Trade Deadline could end to be a big bust come the end of July if the trend of false hope continues.
Even further, for teams that can squeak into the wild-card sudden death playoff, remember the importance of a pitching ace just to get to the actual playoffs. Otherwise that is a lot of work for naught.
In the coming weeks, just hope your team does not make the wrong move in this transition year.