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Feeling a Case of Wild Card Jitters Coming On

According to JSOnline’s Matt Montgomery, by beating the Pirates yesterday the Brewers increased their odds of making the playoffs to a cool 83.4%.  If the Brewers had lost and the Cardinals had won against the Phillies, Milwaukee would have dropped nine percentage points.  Meanwhile, the goddamn Cardinals are still slight favorites to win the division – 47.4% compared to the Brewers at 45.1%.

With five weeks left in the season, it’s hard for some Brewers fans to shake the feeling that we’re in for a disappointment.  The Brewers are still in first place and the 2014 season that no one expected has been a real treat.  But I’d be lying if I said I felt confident the Brewers will win the division.  Maybe it’s because I’m not used to winning.  St. Louis fans are used to winning.  There’s probably no doubt in the collective mind of Cardinal Nation that they’ll have another division title in their hands by the end of next month.  It must be a warm, cozy feeling.

I was talking with a fellow Brewers fan weeks ago who said something along the lines of, “Even if they don’t win the division, they’ll almost definitely get one of the wild cards.”  That seems plausible with 83.4% odds, and if Miller Park were to host the wild card game, I’m sure the atmosphere would be something special.  But as sweet as winning that wild card game would be, losing would be brutal.  For the longest season in professional sports to come down to a single game rather than a series…it’s bloody ludicrous, isn’t it?

In the last three years, the two most significant changes in MLB have been the second wild card and instant replay.  Before the first month of the 2014 season was over, MLB made a rule change based on how replay affected the game.  I think most fans expect additional changes by next season.  As long as we’re anxious to make changes there, why not revisit the wild card playoff format?

By creating a second wild card and a single elimination game, MLB minimized the importance of making the playoffs for those two teams.  Since the advent of the first wild card in1994, all playoff teams were on more or less equal footing in terms of what they had to accomplish to win a championship.  I understand one of the reasons behind creating a second wild card was to increase the value of winning one’s division.  That could still be done by making the wild card round a series of three or five.  Playing 162 games, finishing with a record in the top five of your league, and being subject to the potentially fluky outcome of a single game seems like madness.

Certainly, one-game playoffs happened before 2012 if two teams in a division finished with the same record.  I just think once you’ve created a special “wild card” status that once meant playing a series to advance in the playoffs, it’s unfair that a team can be knocked out in one game.  I realize that’s arbitrary, and influenced by my fear the Brewers might meet that very fate after an incredible season, but dammit…there has to be a better way.

When the second wild card was added, it was a positive development that more teams had the opportunity to make a playoff run.  Last year, the heartbreak of a wild card loss hit a little close to home when two NL Central teams faced each other.  I was able to identify with the Pirates and Reds – after coming up short in the division to the goddamn Cardinals, they only had one chance to get into the “real” playoffs.  The Reds fell behind early and never recovered, and their fans had to grit their teeth and accept the vagaries of life and professional sports.  I was rooting for the Pirates, but I also felt the Reds should have had another chance – the chance to win a series.

I can’t be the only squeamish Brewers fan out there who is dreading the possibility of an early and ignominious postseason exit.   Rather than allow myself to experience undiluted joy at my home team’s first-place status in late August, I’m kvetching about a wild card loss that may not happen.  It may be unseemly, but I’ve listened to enough sports talk radio to know I’m not the only frivolous fan out here.  Sports fans really are impossible.

(Image: Getty)