Jason’s Blog: Major League Baseball Wild Card Time
Major League Baseball added wild card teams to the playoffs in 1994, although because of a players strike it didn’t actually take effect until 1995. Since that time, the Twins have been to the playoffs in six seasons, all under manager Ron Gardenhire, and all as division champions.
Three seasons ago baseball added a second wild card team per league, creating the ultimate gimmick for a sport that prides itself on being a marathon — a one-game playoff.
While one-game playoffs are no fun, the astonishing thing is that since 1994, six world champions were wild card teams. Last year, both league champions, the Kansas City Royals and world champion San Francisco Giants, were wild cards.
So wild card isn’t what you hope for, but it’s also worth chasing if you’re a team like the Minnesota Twins, who appear to be fading quickly from division contention. Since the All Star Break two short weeks ago, the Twins have dropped four games in the standings to the Royals, who just won’t seem to lose. Meanwhile, having back-to-back weekend series where you blow a save on Saturday and follow that up by being blown out on Sunday is a recipe for chasing down a team like the Royals.
Yes, the Twins should’ve taken two of three from both the A’s and Yankees the past two weekends, but they come out of those series a combined 2-4. Their record since the break stands at 3-6 after an 8-3 start to the month. They begin a two-game series tonight at Target Field against a Pittsburgh team they beat twice on the road in June. They will face Francisco Liriano for a second time this season in Wednesday’s matinee, and they hammered the former Twin the first time around.
But back to the wild card standings. The Twins currently hold the second wild card spot and are three games ahead of Toronto and Baltimore for that last AL playoff berth. Tampa Bay is 3.5 games back, while Detroit and the Chicago White Sox are 4.5 games back.
Toronto made a move yesterday by trading for Rockies slugger Troy Tulowitzski. Baltimore has a history of playing well late in the year under manager Buck Showalter, and the Tigers, who are still flirting with a trade deadline fire sale, continue to have the talent on their roster to suggest their record does not reflect their potential.
The Twins will play four games in Toronto next week that should have an interesting wild card impact. But these games will come after the remaining six on the current homestand. The Twins have a great home record this year, but recent slip-ups have signaled possible changes.
The bullpen is no longer reliable in any way. The lineup is as inconsistent as it’s been all year. And you really don’t know which starters besides Ervin Santana can be trusted at this point. I guess what I’m saying is that three-game wild card lead doesn’t seem safe at all compared to Kansas City’s 7.5 game division lead.
I doubt Terry Ryan will make a significant move this week to upgrade the current roster. If he did, it would likely come in the form of bullpen help, where they could look to Rochester in any event. I don’t foresee a big bat being added to the lineup, so it will likely be incumbent upon veterans Brian Dozier, Torii Hunter and Joe Mauer to get hot and hope the rest of the guys follow suit. Hunter had a nice series against the Yanks after slumping the three previous series after the break, while Mauer continues to give you the nightly 1-for-4 that has been his staple for a year and a half. He also has just 4 RBI in July after greatly improving in that area April through June.
Mauer has been above average, but if you plan on going to the playoffs, you need better than above average in that three-spot.
Oh, there is another wild card in this picture that I haven’t mentioned, and that’s the prospect of Byron Buxton coming back and making a real difference on this team. In his short MLB stint so far this year, he has shown us flashes of brilliance but has generally struggled at the plate. Regardless of whether the Twins make the playoffs, and perhaps even more important than that goal, Twins fans are yearning to see what they have in Buxton.
I’m old school, so I’ve never really cheered for a wild card spot in baseball. That changes this year. It would take a pretty big turn of events to catch the Royals, but the wild card is doable. But the way the team has played since the break, so is another last-place finish. That would be tragic.
Jason Iacovino can be heard Tuesdays and Fridays on KRFO-AM 1390 and the RadioPup app at 3:50PM. Leave a comment below and follow him on Twitter @JasonIacovino.