It all begins tonight. Ten teams enter. One team leaves. The remaining teams are about to begin the arduous journey towards a World Series victory. Tonight the Yankees and Astros will play the American League Wild Card game. Tomorrow night the Pirates and Cubs will play the National League Wild Card game. The entire season for each of these four teams comes down to a single, winner take all game.
Some may argue that a single all or nothing game is not baseball. I was of that opinion when this playoff platform was first instituted, but my attitude towards the Wild Card games has changed. The current playoff platform keeps more teams in contention deeper into the season, thus more fans are tuned into the game as a whole. This is good for growing the sport as well as from the business end of the sport. Under the old playoff platform where each division winner plus one wild card from each league made the playoffs you would not have had the chase in the American League by the Twins and Angels until the last day or so of the season, and even the Indians until the last week of the season. The dramatic turnaround of the Astros has been a long time coming, so simply playing in the Wild Card game is a thrill. Imagine how the city of Houston will be further energized if the Astros win and move on to the American League Divisional Series against the Royals. The Astros would be sitting at home now under the old playoff platform, instead Houston might be at the doorstep towards its own rebirth.
The Wild Card games also put pressure on teams to win their divisions. No team wants to go to a single, winner take all game. This keeps teams from cruising into October with the Wild Card. The American League Wild Card game is an opportunity for the Yankees to reestablish themselves as the Evil Empire and for the Astros to prove that their rebuilding plan is complete. New York is looking to return to its glory days and Houston is looking to begin writing their own. The National League Wild Card game allows us to settle once and for all who the better team is between the Pirates and the Cubs. They both were less complete of a team than the Cardinals; however, they proved for 162 games that they both deserved the opportunity to play for a World Series championship. This Wild Card game gives them that opportunity to prove themselves worthy.
The MLB Playoffs are not perfect, but neither is life. Several good teams did not make the playoffs this year. This is good for baseball. You should not want a good team to win a championship; you should only want a great team to win. The Playoffs are about rewarding the extraordinary. Will we see someone dominate like Madison Bumgarner did last year? No one knows. The one thing we do know is that for the next two evenings four teams who have survived the gauntlet that is the Major League season will take the field with their World Series aspirations on the line with every pitch and every swing. The Astros, Yankees, Cubs, and Pirates have to prove one more time that they are the team that is ready to fight.