5 Reasons Being a Wild Card Would Be Better for the New York Yankees
For much of the season, pundits have been discussing how much added value comes with winning a division title in 2012 with the addition of a second wild-card playoff team in each league.
So the conventional wisdom goes, winning the division means more than it has since the wild card entered the baseball lexicon for the 1995 postseason. It was originally supposed to begin with realignment in 1994, but the players’ strike wiped out the postseason and delayed implementation for a year.
This piece takes a contrary view and takes a look at some potential advantages for the New York Yankees should they enter the playoffs as a wild card rather than as champion of the American League East.
1. Home Cooking Early
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The second wild card really wasn’t intended to begin until next season, until after the Houston Astros move to the American League West from the National League Central to balance both the American and National leagues with 15 teams each.
With realignment balancing the sizes of the divisions and evening the playing field a bit for teams seeking playoff glory, it made sense to wait. But the money was just too attractive; instead, Major League Baseball decided to jam an extra wild-card playoff game into the schedule in 2012.
With the Baltimore Orioles not going away, it’s possible the Yankees could be a wild card instead of a division winner. But as the records stand today, New York has a better record than the Oakland Athletics and would host the one-game “series.”
Because of the scheduling anomaly brought about by implementing the extra wild card this season, that would also mean that the Yankees would open the Division Series at home against the team with the best record in the American League should they win the one-game playoff.
That would mean the Texas Rangers would come to Yankee Stadium for the first two games of the best-of-five series. Getting two home-field wins before having to go to Texas would be a big advantage for the Yankees as a wild card.
2. Ability to Add Bullpen Depth
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As ESPN.com’s Buster Olney discovered this week, the wild-card teams would have the ability to set a 25-man roster just for the wild-card playoff game.
Since it’s a one-game series, that means a roster would really only need one starting pitcher. Those other roster spots that might ordinarily be occupied by the rest of the starting rotation could instead be deployed with extra arms for the bullpen and, perhaps, a third catcher to allow managers more flexibility for late-inning substitutions for base-running ability.
In a matchup between the Yankees and Oakland, bullpen depth favors the Yankees. Instead of having to carry CC Sabathia, Andy Pettitte and Phil Hughes or Ivan Nova—and I’m assuming Joe Girardi would give the ball to this season’s best starter, Hiroki Kuroda—for the one-game playoff, the Yankees could add bullpen depth such as Clay Rapada as an extra lefty in the pen and could keep Derek Lowe as a long man and a guy like Cory Wade for depth.
Oakland’s best counters would only be youngsters such as Dan Straily or Sean Doolittle.
3. Time off Balances out the Extra Game
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Because of the nature of the single game, it would obviously add a game to the postseason schedule. However, that game would be two days before the opening of the Division Series and, given the previously mentioned scheduling quirk, it would be the Rangers who would have to travel quickly.
Texas would, after all, have to wait to see which team won the wild-card game before knowing their destination for Games 1 and 2 of the series. There’s a significant difference between having to travel to New York or travel to Oakland, so there’s no way to really split the difference from Dallas-Fort Worth in advance.
4. Experience Kills
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Regardless of how the Athletics would structure their roster for the playoff game, they would face a huge postseason experience gap in a matchup with New York.
For Oakland, outfielder Seth Smith has played in nine postseason games. Outfielder Coco Crisp has appeared in 20. Designated hitter Jonny Gomes has played in two, SS Stephen Drew seven and catcher George Kottaras three.
Among the pitchers, reliever Grant Balfour has made 15 appearances and reliever Pat Neshek has made two. That’s it.
Compare that with the Yankees, who have Derek Jeter with 152 postseason games and Andy Pettitte with 42 starts in the playoffs. There are other players with a lot of playoff experience, as well, but you get the point: These two players alone account for more postseason time than the entire A's roster.
That’s not saying that experience alone will carry the day but the Yankees would certainly be less awestruck by the surroundings of playoff baseball than would be the Athletics.
5. A Chance to Make History
Don Mattingly bats in his only postseason series, the 1995 AL Division Series against the Seattle Mariners, when the Yankees became the first wild-card playoff team in American League history.
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The Yankees are the most decorated team in MLB postseason history. So, in a purely aesthetic argument, why wouldn’t it be great if the Yankees were one of the first teams to ever play in the one-game wild-card playoff?
New York has made more playoff appearances than any other franchise in the sport. The Yankees have won more pennants and more World Series titles. Yet the Yankees were also one of the two first wild-cards in baseball history, earning the American League wild-card berth in 1995.
So why not make a little bit more postseason history by being one of four teams to play in the first-ever one-game postseason series in MLB history?