Dan's Dugout: Wild-Card Chases Resemble Little League • Latino Sports

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Dan’s Dugout: Wild-Card Chases Resemble Little League

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With a week to run on the 2016 baseball season, the wild-card chases in both leagues bear a strong resemblance to Little League.

Whenever a player hits a fly ball, the kid outfielders converge without calling for the ball. In fact, each one wants the other to make the catch.

“You take it! You take it!” is the call most commonly heard among Little League outfielders.

So it is the major-league wild card chase.

The evil child of the three-division format, the wild card came was created in 1994 — ostensibly to create interest in more cities during the final month but realistically to raise more revenue for club owners.

Nobody wanted a repeat of 1993, when the San Francisco Giants won 103 games but finished one game behind the Atlanta Braves, then in the National League West. After a grueling six-week tussle, the Giants went home for the winter with their tail between their legs.

Had the wild card existed then, it would have nullified that nail-biting chase since both clubs would have been assured of playing beyond the 162-game regular season.

Now, all these years later, the Giants are in a chase again, albeit a sloppy second to the thrills and spills of mlbsflogoa fight for a division title.

If San Francisco, St. Louis, and the New York Mets win all the rest of their games, they will finish in a three-way tie — the first in baseball history — and waltz into a round-robin for the right to be the National League’s wild card. Whichever team wins will then have the daunting challenge of advancing into a Division Series against the best team in baseball, the Chicago Cubs.

A three-way tie would thwart an already-fragile postseason schedule dictated by television interests.

Already, the one-and-done wild-card games are slated for Oct. 4 and Oct. 5. If the NL race requires more than a sudden-death match for a decision, the Division Series of both leagues will have to be delayed.

And who knows what vagaries of October weather — especially after dark — would dampen things further?

mlballogonewIn the American League, a half-dozen teams remain alive mathematically, though logic suggests that it too will have a trio of teams contending for two spots. The Toronto Blue Jays, Baltimore Orioles, and Detroit Tigers are trying to prove that three into two won’t go.

Yes, Virginia, there are now two wild-cards per league — the two non-champions with the best winning percentages. Their single playoff game determines the wild-card champion, which then goes on to play the team with the best record that season.

The idea is to prevent wild-cards from advancing deep into October but the theory doesn’t always work. As recently as 2014, for example, both World Series teams were wild-card winners — teams that did not finish in first place. Traditionalists, including this columnist, complained.

If the wild-card format survives — and possible expansion to 32 teams could end the experiment — the best way to prevent non-champions from reaching the Fall Classic is to deny them any home games.

Under the current system, wild-cards could get two home games in the best-of-five Division Series. And we all know that the home-field advantage is much more significant in the postseason. At least that’s what FOX would have us believe after imposing a rule giving that advantage in the World Series to the league that wins the All-Star Game.

At least the games are getting interesting.

In Flushing Saturday night, the Mets spotted the Phillies a 10-0 lead, then came within a whisker of mlbnllogocircuclarstaging the biggest comeback in team history. It also would have been the biggest blown lead in the history of the Phillies.

Philadelphia parlayed a series of misplays, walks, inexperience, and ineptitude into such a sorry display of the game that Mets television voice Keith Hernandez closed his broadcast by saying, “I need an aspirin.”

Compounding the felony was the fact that Mets manager Terry Collins removed his four best players — Yoenis Cespedes, Curtis Granderson, Asdrubal Cabrera, and Jose Reyes — on the assumption that a little rest couldn’t hurt. Relying on reserves recently recalled from AAA Las Vegas, the Mets made maximum mileage out of every mistake, not to mention well-placed grounders that went through infield holes or got stuck in the thick infield grass. Not until the ninth inning, when slump-ridden Jay Bruce hit the first pinch-homer of his career, did the power-hitting Mets clear the fences.

The St. Louis Cardinals have been clearing the fences even more frequently. A team teethed in pitching and defense, the Cards have resorted to hammering their way out of endless predicaments.

Their starting staff is struggling as much as San Francisco’s relief corps, which has blown more saves than any team since 2013. Just ask ace Madison Bumgarner, who watched a 1-0 lead turn into a 2-1 defeat after Bruce Bochy gave him a quick and ill-advised hook in Los Angeles.

Miguel Cabrera 's bat could boost the Tigers into the playoffs. Photo: Lisa Luevanos

Miguel Cabrera ‘s bat could boost the Tigers into the playoffs.
Photo: Lisa Luevanos

In the American League wild-card shootout, power could be the determining factor. Both the Orioles and Blue Jays live and die by the home run, while the Tigers rely on two-time MVP Miguel Cabrera and timely support from Victor and J.D. Martinez. Baltimore is bereft of starting pitching but has a stingy bullpen led by Cy Young Award contender Zach Britton. Detroit’s Justin Verlander, rejuvenated this season, has big-game experience that gives him an edge over Toronto’s surprise 20-game winner, J.A. Happ.

It should be an interesting last week.

Elsewhere in baseball:

Ex-Met Ike Davis helped Team Israel win the first round of the World Baseball Classic tournament, played the Coney Island ballpark usually occupied by a Mets affiliate that finished its season . . .

After the Yankees suffered shutouts in three consecutive games, they have no business referring to themselves as Bronx Bombers anymore . . .

If the Tigers play the Blue Jays for the AL wild card, the Upton brothers (Justin and Melvin Junior) will

Former Braves teammates Melvin Upton Jr. (left) and Justin Upton could be playoff foes this fall

Former Braves teammates Melvin Upton Jr. (left) and Justin Upton could be playoff foes this fall

play against each other . . .

It’s going to be tough to keep 21-game winner Rick Porcello (Red Sox) from the AL’s Cy Young . . .

The Mets, who went 9-10 against last-place Atlanta this year, open the 2017 season against a Braves team certain to be vastly better after adding free agents and blue-chip prospects . . .

Washington’s low-ball offer to starting catcher Wilson Ramos could send the quality receiver into the free agent market . . .

A fond farewell to lifetime Dodgers broadcaster Vin Scully, the 89-year-old poet who worked TV games without a partner.

About Dan Schlossberg

Former AP sportswriter Dan Schlossberg of Fair Lawn, NJ has produced 35 baseball books, including autobiographies of Ron Blomberg, Al Clark, and Milo Hamilton. Also a broadcaster, he is the host and executive producer of Braves Banter and Travel Itch Radio and a contributor to Sirius XM.

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