In the final week of the regular season, we would see teams sacrificing a division to rest starters and line up pitching.
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No team wants to play six months and risk it all in a one-and-done Wild Card game. Now they view the Wild Card Game as a consolation prize.
In this way, the system is working perfectly. Teams that don't win their division still have a chance to make the postseason. There won't be a repeat of 1993 when the Giants won 103 games and didn't make the playoffs.
Or 1980 when the Orioles went 100-62 and got nothing. As Giants outfielder Hunter Pence said before the 2014 Giants-Pirates National League Wild Card Game, "We're here because we weren't good enough. We didn't win our division. This game gives us a second chance to keep playing. If you're a competitor, that's all you can ask for."
As for making the World Series …
Last season, two Wild Card teams -- Pence's Giants, and the Royals -- delivered a magnificent seven-game World Series. That was the exception. Every other year, the World Series has been a matchup between two division championships.
The Wild Card Game has been a tremendous addition to the postseason schedule. To see the atmosphere in Pittsburgh the last three seasons and to see it at Yankee Stadium this season, is to understand that fans are totally into it on several levels.
There's something about a winner-take-all event that captures our attention. That's especially true in baseball, where one of the beauties of the sport is its daily rhythm. No matter how bad a loss in the regular season, players know they can "go get 'em tomorrow."
There's a different vibe with a Wild Card Game. In one nine-inning baseball game, nine months of work are on the line. One bad pitch, one fielding miscue can flush it all away. That creates a pressure players don't usually deal with. For fans, it's great theater.
While the Wild Card Game has given more teams a chance to compete, it has created an additional hurdle on the road to the World Series. Of the 16 Wild Card teams, only two of them --both in 2014 -- have gotten to the World Series.
In the 10 seasons before 2012, there has been at least one Wild Card team in the World Series seven times. In '02, the World Series featured two Wild Card teams -- the Angels and Giants.
Maybe this is also a reminder that baseball's larger landscape has changed dramatically over the last two decades. Payroll size is not as important as it once was. This season, none of baseball's top nine payroll teams got as far as a League Championship Series. This World Series features No. 16 (Royals) and No. 21 (Mets).
Thanks mostly to revenue sharing and increased use of analytics, teams have been able to construct rosters with a focus on bullpens, defense and offensive production built around something other than home runs.
In the last three seasons, 18 of baseball's 30 teams have played at least one postseason series. Meanwhile, seven American League franchises and six NL teams have won at least one pennant in the last 11 seasons.
The Mets last won a World Series in 1986, and the Royals last won in 1985. In the years since, there were times when fans in both Kansas City and New York surely wondered if their teams would ever compete again.
Both the Royals and Mets are a tribute to smart management, patience, and player development. They're a reminder of one other thing as well: winning a division is important.