Rob Neyer just rubbed me wrong, which is something that he doesn’t do. Rob usually thinks things through, and this time, he didn’t seem to do so.
I’m not a big fan of the wild card. Everybody loves it, but then everybody loves American Idol, too. Doesn’t mean it’s good. At this particular moment, though, without the wild card there wouldn’t be much worth following in the National League. All three divisions are all but locked up.
If there was no wild card—and there’s no way I’d ever have put one in play—baseball would not operate a postseason with an odd number of teams. As much as a team would like a bye in the playoffs, that could be two weeks without playing competitive ball. NBA players can [and do, thanks to David Stern’s whoring out of the TV schedule to the networks] handle that kind of layoff, but baseball is very much an every day sport.
If you have no wild card, you’re back into playing in two divisions. That’s the way I’d like to see baseball do things, honestly; eight teams used to play for one league title, so eight can play for one division title. [The old saying, “Nice guys finish last,” was actually “Nice guys finish in seventh,” which was next-to-last in an eight-team league.]
It’s not worth trying to sort the present-day three-division teams into two divisions and then figure out what “races” you would have because baseball has made unbalanced scheduling a reality [again], and splicing teams out of the Central divisions into the East and West doesn’t give you an apples-to-apples race. You might be able to work up a normalized system, though, like what Baseball Prospectus has done with its Adjusted Standings, because the third-order adjusts team runs-scored and runs-allowed data for batter/pitcher performance and for opponent abilities–that is, if you play a tougher schedule, your third-order W-L total will be a little higher after the adjustment.
So, on the back of an envelope, the two divisions in each league:
AL West: Anaheim, Oakland, Seattle, Texas, Chicago, Kansas City, and Minnesota
AL East: New York, Boston, Toronto, Baltimore, Tampa Bay, Detroit, and Cleveland
NL West: Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Diego, Colorado, Arizona, Houston, Milwaukee, and St. Louis
NL East: New York, Atlanta, Florida, Philadelphia, Montreal, Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, and Chicago
[You can niggle about the makeup of the NL divisions. I’m just making a point.]
Team [Current W-L] [Adjusted Runs Scored-Adjusted Runs Allowed] [Adjusted Won-Loss Record]
Red Sox: 74-44
Devil Rays: 56-63
Blue Jays: 54-66
Five games between first and second.
White Sox: 61-55
Again, five games between first and second.
Broken record …
Five games in mid-August is a pretty solid lead, but it’s not insurmountable. A couple hot weeks by any one of five teams [the Sox would only be six out in third] could make it a bit closer.
It would also remove the pesky concerns about who the wild card really should be.