It’s hard to argue that the wild card has been a massive success sine being introduced in 1996, concerns about “tradition” aside. But the one place where it’s a huge failure? The rule that states that two division rivals cannot play each other in the first round, AKA, “Since the Red Sox and Yankees take the AL East and Wild Card every year, we want to make sure we can push that matchup to the ALCS for epic money-making opportunities.” Lousy as that may be, MLB’s not necessarily wrong to do so, because don’t let anyone fool you – this is a business above all else.
So with the Dodgers sweep of the Pirates in combination with the slide of the Rockies (currently on a four-game losing streak) having all but wrapped up the division – as though it was ever really in question – it’s not an unfair question to look ahead at NLDS playoff opponents. If the season ended today, the Dodgers would have the best record in the NL, as they’re currently 3 games up on St. Louis and 5.5 on Philadelphia.
As the team with the best record in the league, the Dodgers should be entitled to leave the dangerous Cardinals and Phillies to beat up on one another and face the lesser wild card in the first round, right? After all, who would you rather face in October? Albert Pujols, Matt Holliday, Chris Carpenter, and Adam Wainwright? Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, Cliff Lee, and Cole Hamels? Or a team who’s best hitter is 35-year-old Todd Helton and, with Aaron Cook out for the year, has a rotation fronted by the always overrated Jason Marquis? That’s not to say that the Rockies are a crappy team – especially not with the crazy run they’ve been on since Jim Tracy took over – but the simple fact is that they’re certainly not the Phillies or Cardinals, and the Dodgers have owned them in 2009, having taken 12 of 15.
Indeed, if the Cardinals take the best record in the NL, they get to face Colorado while the Dodgers and Phillies rematch last year’s NLCS. If the Phillies do, they get the Rockies while Bill Plaschke orgasms over how St. Louis has Carpenter and Wainright, and we don’t. But if the Dodgers get the best record? As things currently stand, they would get the Phillies (the division winner with the worst record) while St. Louis gets Colorado, simply because the Dodgers and Rockies are in the same division. Because that’s fair. Really does anyone give a crap that the Dodgers and Rockies are division rivals?
Fear not, friends, because there is a solution in hand, and that’s to cheer on our fine fish friends from Florida. Best known to Dodger fans this year for scheduling 6pm starts during national blackout windows to accomodate washed-up 80s pop stars (thus depriving LA fans of televised Dodger baseball), the Marlins currently sit 3rd in the Wild Card standings, 4 games behind the Rockies and 1.5 behind the Giants (who, of course, also wouldn’t help the Dodgers by winning). If the Marlins can sneak into the wild card, they’ll end up in Dodger Stadium while the Cards and Phils fight it out. Which matchup would you prefer?
So keep an eye on the Fish over the next two weeks, because the schedule is squarely in their favor. After 4 in Cincinnati against the woeful Reds, they have 3 at home against the Phillies (who have very little to play for) and then 3 against the Mets, whom they swept earlier this month, before ending with 3 in Atlanta, who will also have nothing to play for.
The Marlins wouldn’t be a pushover – Josh Johnson is a beast and Hanley Ramirez and Dan Uggla are two grade-A bats – but other than Johnson, their pitching is pretty brutal. No other starter has an ERA under 4.60 and their supposed closer, Matt Lindstrom, has a 5.83 ERA when he’s managed to stay off the DL. The point is, yes, you do want to see them rather than St. Louis or Philly.
This isn’t about sneakily avoiding a better team; it’s about being rewarded for having the best record in the league, regardless of division, and part of that reward is supposed to be an easier opponent in the first round.