(AP)Ah, the instant magic of Uncle Bud's second wild card! While an entire list of cities might have long since moved their attentions solely to football were this any other year, the additional route into the playoffs is keeping the sport on the front burner in many locales well into September.
Seriously, think about this for a minute: Were it not for an additional playoff team, most of the country's second-largest market (Los Angeles) would have already checked out, the defending world champions would be assessing where it all went wrong and Pittsburgh fans wouldn't have anything additional to shoot for in the team's quest to stop its run of losing seasons.
In addition, extra importance has been placed on winning your division, adding an extra layer of intrigue to a majority of the races. Oh, and there are three National League teams sitting at 69 wins that can still imagine a Colorado Rockies-type run putting them in the playoffs where, hey, anything can happen.
The Philadelphia Phillies, Milwaukee Brewers and Arizona Diamondbacks are the real reason I started this post because there's been some chatter among their fan bases that they could still erase the six-game deficit that exists between them and the St. Louis Cardinals and leapfrog both the Los Angeles Dodgers and Pittsburgh Pirates while doing so.
That's a pretty tall order given there are just over three weeks left on the schedule, but the important part is that it's not yet mathematically impossible. Bud Selig and Co. have found a way to take the hope that exists at the beginning of the season and market in repackaged "so you're saying there's a chance!" form at the end of the year to a majority of its fan bases. That artificial hope creation is going to cause a lot more traditionalists to cry about the decreased significance of the regular season — especially when a second wild card ends up winning a World Series — but let's be honest: The importance of the regular season has plummeted ever since the wild card was implemented in the early '90s (or if you're really old and hardcore, when the leagues split into divisions for the 1969 season). The random nature of baseball's playoffs may mean seeing a few more "undeserving" teams take the title, but I think it's a cost worth paying in exchange for a daily schedule that stays relevant through the end of September.
As for fans of the Phillies, Brewers and D-Backs, hope is really all they have right now. Right now they can look at their schedules, add up the gimme wins against the likes of Houston and Chicago and imagine a scenario that puts them in the postseason. But the reality is that they all also suffer from a shortage of head-to-head games with their competitors. The D-Backs only play the Dodgers twice, the Brewers have three games against the Pirates and the Phillies won't play anyone with a chance at that second wild card. (The Dodgers and Cardinals, meanwhile, have a four-game set in Los Angeles this week and a sweep or three wins by either team could really hurt the optimism of the fringe contenders.)
But the important part is that the hope can still change into something more real given one good week. It's Sept. 10 and fans of three teams who have experienced largely disappointing seasons are still following them. I think that can only be a good thing and it wouldn't have been possible without the addition of the second wild card.
What do you think? Can Philly, Milwaukee or Arizona make a late run?