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Is the wild card hurting the division races?

Chris Ruddick, MLB Editor

Rounding Third Logo Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - Before I get started here, let me state that I was a big proponent of the wild card when it was implemented back in 1995, and I am still in favor of it today. In fact, I am on the side of those who wish to expand the playoffs even further in adding another wild card team from each league.

But that, I guess, is a topic for another day.

The wild card has given us competitive races down the stretch in just about all of the 15 years it has been in place. It has kept more teams involved later than they would have been, while making for some compelling baseball heading into the final week, which, let's be honest, is all you can really ask for.

However, if things play out the way I think they will over the final three-plus weeks of the regular season, we could have a problem. The two best races in baseball are shaping up to be the American League East and the National League West, but all four teams could get into the playoffs anyway thanks to the wild card.

The juice has been taken out of the division races, especially in the AL, where it is a foregone conclusion that the loser between the New York Yankees and Tampa Bay Rays in the AL East is going to get in. They are 1-2 for the best record in baseball and will likely trade the top spot a number of times over the next couple of weeks.


It is a foregone conclusion that the loser between the Yankees and Rays in the AL East is going to get the wild card.
How awesome would that race have been 16 years ago, had they both been fighting for one spot?

While it may not be as pronounced in the NL, I still see the wild card going to either San Diego or San Francisco. Of course, the division race between them is also going to come down to the final weekend, but again, who cares, knowing they both could get in anyway?

So where is the intrigue going to be down the stretch?

I know the National League East is tight at the moment, but the Phillies are now healthy and with the three pitchers atop that rotation, that division is over. Don't be surprised when the season ends on October 3rd and the Phils are the National League leader with the biggest divisional lead.

Atlanta, which fell a half-game back in the NL East on Tuesday, leads the Wild Card chase by a game over the San Francisco Giants. I don't like the way the Braves have looked over the last month, though, and I think them relinquishing their division lead on Tuesday was just the beginning. I see a free-fall coming.

The American League Central could come down to the wire - because it does every year - and give us some excitement, but in reality all the Minnesota Twins and Chicago White Sox are battling for is the right to get eliminated by either the Yankees or Rays in the first round.

Is there anyone out there who doesn't think the Rays or Yanks will be coming out of the AL?

Forget an AL West that's been over since the All-Star break, despite the fact that the Rangers are playing as awful as any team in the league at the moment. The Reds' six-game lead on the Cardinals should also hold up in the National League, given who they have to play the rest of the way.

I would love to see the Cards get involved in the wild card mix, because if they get into the playoffs I have a feeling they could be scary. As I write this they sit 5 1/2 back, though only four back in the loss column.

There is one team, though, that can throw a wrench into all of this and that team is the Ghost of Septembers Past - the Colorado Rockies, who are in the midst of another late-season surge and have climbed within 4 1/2 games of both the NL West and the wild card.

That said, Colorado has been so inconsistent this season, I just can't envision them making a run here. Then again, I did not think they would rip off 13 wins in their last 14 games to force a one-game playoff in 2007 and definitely did not think they had another run in them in June of last season when they were 12 games under .500 and 15 1/2 games out of first place.

By the way, you may disregard all this when in a couple of weeks I am writing over the last weekend of the season about the wild free-for-all that is going to be taking place for the NL Wild Card.

I hope that is the case, but I just don't see it playing out like that.

Comments? Criticism? Applause? Contact Chris Ruddick at cruddick@sportsnetwork.com.

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