The Philadelphia Phillies are on the very edge of the race for the second wild card spot. Phillies fans like myself know that they've gotten a lot of breaks - like a long overdue hot streak, the fact that no other second wild card contender is winning big, and that Bud Selig chose to install this new playoff spot this year. Both Philadelphia and the National League as a whole are glad he did, since there wouldn't be a shred of September suspense if there wasn't.
If not for the second wild card, every single National League postseason race would be settled by now. The Washington Nationals, Cincinnati Reds and San Francisco Giants are cruising towards division titles, while the Atlanta Braves would have the wild card spot completely locked up if there was only one of them.
With the second wild card, every NL race is almost settled but one - and even this one could be an embarrassment to Selig's vision. If a team with 84 or 85 wins makes it in - like the Phillies, perhaps - and then upsets a 90-95 win Atlanta Braves club to reach the NLDS, it will trigger a lot of backlash for the new system. Yet at least it will give people some reason to talk about the National League before the postseason.
Without this one race, no one other than the Nationals, Reds, Giants and Braves would have any playoff hopes at all. But with it, .500 or worse teams like the Phillies, Milwaukee Brewers, Pittsburgh Pirates and Arizona Diamondbacks still cling to their dreams, along with the fading St. Louis Cardinals and Los Angeles Dodgers. There is some debate to be had on whether that is a better system, yet it is keeping the National League in the headlines.
The American League has all the real drama right now, as its three divisions and two wild card spots are all still in play. The New York Yankees and Texas Rangers are in unexpected dogfights for their divisions, as they hold off the Cinderella Baltimore Orioles and Oakland Athletics. Meanwhile, the Chicago White Sox and Detroit Tigers are in a do-or-die fight for the AL Central, with no wild card to fall back on. The suspense is endless in the AL, while the NL is mostly just playing out the string in September.
But when the playoffs start, the National League will have intrigue again, as the Nationals try to win without Stephen Strasburg and the Giants stand to get suspended Melky Cabrera back. And if a team other than the Braves wins the wild card game, they will be held up against the 2011 Cardinals and their Cinderella championship run. Maybe it'll even be the 2012 Cardinals themselves - or even the Phillies if the breaks continue.
The mere slim chance of a Phillies run wouldn't be possible without the second wild card. And without that additional playoff spot, the National League would inspire nothing but yawns until October. Of course, since no one actually seems to want the second wild card, inspiring laughs and mockery might not be much better for the NL.
Robert Dougherty is a life-long Philadelphia resident who has followed the Phillies since he was eight years old.
Other stories from this contributor
- Sports & Recreation
- San Francisco Giants