The strength of pennant race baseball can be found in several charateristics that have been greatly diminished by the wild card system. These factors include the number of teams played against during a season, the number of divisions leading to the number of teams getting to the post-season, and the strength of a “pennant race only” focus.
Pennant race baseball creates structures designed to give season long pennant races between rivals for the same pennant the primary focus. This leads each team to give a concentrated effort competing with 7 teams. In contrast, the wild card league thins out its schedule by having its teams play between 19 and 21 teams. As objects spread out they become thinner and weaker, subject to the wear and tear of time.
It was often said, before the wild card was introduced, that baseball could not go back to the days when there were two leagues with a regular season that ended with the playing of the World Series. This was true because with expansion there were just too many teams. This “no division” set-up is exactly what baseball resembles with its spread out wild card schedule. Baseball might as well finish the proess by creating two 14 and 16 team leagues with no divisions. Have the top 4 teams in each league play in the post season. By adding interleague play, baseball has thinned out its schedule even further.
Pennant race baseball by taking three divisions and merging them into two has the effect of concentrating baseball playoff energy from 8 teams into 4. The diffused energy of 8 is like a light bulb; the 4 is more like the power of a laser. Diffusion also occurs as baseball teams and fans ping-pong their attention between division and wild card competition during the long season. Pennant races begin the 1st day of the season and continue until its climactic ending, when a pennant winner is crowned. Finally, the lose of energy in the wild card league can be seen in September when the leagues best teams pull in their reigns in preparation for the playoff. They leave the stage for the weaker division and wild card competitors.
Let’s take a look at how this plays out by looking at the pennant race and wild card leagues as they’re competing today. By listing teams who are within 7 games of top (7 games would still put them in contention during the last week of the season), we can see the teams who are still in contention.
Wild Card League Division Races:
East: NY —; TB .5; BOS 6 Central: CHI —; MIN 1.5 West: TEX —
East: ATL —; PHI 2 Central: CIN —; STL .5 West: SD —; SF 2
Wild Card Races:
TB —; BOS 5.5; MIN 6.5
SF —; STL 1.5; PHI 1.5; COL 5.5; LA 5.5
Note the 6 teams who show the conflict in the system, as they are competing for both division and wild card.
Pennant Race League Competition:
East: TB —; NY 3.5 West: MIN —; TEX .5; OAK 2.5; CHI 3.5; LA 6
East: CIN —; ATL 1; PHI 1.5; WAS 3; FLA 5 West: SD —; SF 3; LA 3; STL 5; COL 5.5; MIL 7
In the wild card league we have 13 teams that are competing for 8 post-season positions. 62% will go on, while only 38% will go home.
In the pennant race league there are 18 teams competing for 4 post-season berths. 22% will go on, while 78% go home.
This all displays the concentrated energy of pennant races and the dissipating activity of the wild card.