Now that the postseason is underway, it’s any team's game. Well, almost. Some media outlets are suggesting that the every team in these 2011 MLB Playoffs has a legitimate shot at winning it all—except for the St. Louis Cardinals.
Their skepticism is certainly justified. Were Adam Wainwright healthy and in the rotation, the Card's staff would be far more imposing. And yes, they have drawn the Philadelphia Phillies in the NLDS, complete with their wonder-staff—possibly the best starting rotation in the history of baseball. But be forewarned, do not sleep on these two teams: The St. Louis Cardinals and the Tampa Bay Rays.
Neither logic nor history would suggest counting out the team with Albert Pujols, and despite the fact that the Rays have drawn the juggernaut Texas Rangers, not many are writing them off; especially after the 9-0 thumping the Rays doled out in Game 1.
But the distinct advantage that both the Rays and Cards hold is that they both enter these playoffs as the wild card. While it may seem to be a disadvantage having to play the top seeded team in each league, what it also means is that the Rays and Cards have been playing meaningful games for over a month, while the top-seeded Phillies and Yankees have been coasting to the finish, with their divisions all wrapped up for several weeks.
History bears this out, as wild card teams reached the World Series in six consecutive seasons from 2002-2007. More importantly, the wild card team won it all in three of those years: 2002, 2003, and 2004 (Florida Marlins, Anaheim Angels, and Boston Red Sox).
Wild card teams seem to do especially well in postseason play when those playoff races were highly contested down the stretch. For instance, 2007 when the Colorado Rockies had to win their final 11-straight regular season games (14 of their last 15) to force a one-game playoff with the San Diego Padres. They then went on to sweep the 2007 NLDS and NLCS in route to their first ever World Series appearance.
As both the 2011 St. Louis Cardinals and Tampa Bay Rays took all 162 games to clinch their playoff berths, and both had to surmount enormous leads in the wild card race to do so, both clubs have been in a must-win mindset since September began. Every game for them has been do-or-die, and the opponent they face is of no consequence. They must win, regardless, and these playoff games are no different.
Do not be surprised if one or both of these teams send the Texas’ bombers and Phillies’ aces home packing, and advance deep into these 2011 MLB Playoffs.