Adding a wild card is ‘go­ing to help us,’ but cau­tion abounds

The Washington Times Daily - - Weather - BY NATHAN FENNO

VIERA, FLA. | A warm breeze swirled through Space Coast Sta­dium, past the osprey nest perched atop the right-field light pole, the young­ster scrub­bing the dugout roof with a rag and the rhyth­mic crack of bat on ball.

Oc­to­ber’s chill felt far away. But the month oc­cu­pied the minds of the Washington Na­tion­als on Thurs­day, af­ter news spread that base­ball’s play­offs likely will ex­pand from eight to 10 teams.

The As­so­ci­ated Press and oth­ers re­ported Thurs­day that Ma­jor League Base­ball and its play­ers were clos­ing in on a long-ex­pected deal that would im­ple­ment the new struc­ture for the 2012 post­sea­son. The teams with the two best records af­ter the three di­vi­sion win­ners would meet in a one-game play-in. The win­ner would be the wild card.

The big­gest change to base­ball’s play­off for­mat since the one-team wild card started in 1995 left the Na­tion­als hopeful of in­creased odds to emerge from the al­ways-dif­fi­cult Na­tional League East.

“It’s go­ing to be a lit­tle dif­fer­ent,” starter Jor­dan Zim­mer­mann said. “But it’s def­i­nitely go­ing to help us.”

Added util­ity man Mark Derosa: “I liked it last year, see­ing how many teams were in it for the wild card spots. It brings the peo­ple to the sta­dium. No one likes play­ing in an empty ball­park. . . . I think it makes for a very ex­cit­ing sea­son, and there’s go­ing to be a lot more in­tense base­ball down the stretch.”

Since 1995, the Na­tional League’s wild card team av­er­aged 90.6 wins; the Amer­i­can League’s av­er­aged 93.7 wins. The Na­tion­als haven’t won more than 81 games since they ar­rived in 2005. If the new plan were in place last sea­son, four teams would have been ahead off the Na­tion­als for the two play-in spots.

Cau­tion about the plan’s lo­gis­tics came from vet­er­ans such as re­liever Brad Lidge. In five trips to the post­sea­son dur­ing his 10 sea­sons, two came via the wild card. He likes the ex­pan­sion and thinks it’s go­ing to gen­er­ate more fan in­ter­est. Prac­ti­cal is­sues con­cern him.

“I think it se­ri­ously hand­i­caps the high wild card team,” Lidge said. “Now you don’t have a day off and you have to use one of your best starters. Even if you’re able to come out of there with a vic­tory, you’re at a dis­ad­van­tage go­ing into the first round.”

Lidge would like the one-game play­off sand­wiched be­tween off-days to lessen the im­pact on travel, plan­ning and pitch­ing ro­ta­tions.

Noth­ing has been the same since he turned pro and cre­ated le­gions of ca­sual fans who tune in when he plays and tune out when he passes. Paired with Phil Mick­el­son in the sec­ond-to-last group in the final round of the AT&T Peb­ble Beach Na­tional on Feb. 12, Woods helped the tour­na­ment achieve a 96 per­cent in­crease in its TV rat­ing com­pared to last year.

Woods wouldn’t be a big­ger draw if he fi­nally won again. But the fact that he col­lapsed and shot a 75 could bring more view­ers to the screen this week, hop­ing he re­cov­ers his win­ning ways or root­ing like crazy for his los­ing streak to con­tinue.

Folks from both camps could be drawn to Haney’s book. He had an in­side view as Woods won six ma­jors and rewrote golf his­tory from March 2004 through the 2010 Mas­ters, which marked Woods’ re­turn af­ter an early-morn­ing ac­ci­dent and rev­e­la­tions of adul­tery blew up his mar­riage and life as he knew it.

Woods’ re­ac­tion to the book only spurs in­ter­est. He called it “un­pro­fes­sional” and “very dis­ap­point­ing” in Jan­uary, which Haney said was odd be­cause the golfer hasn’t read it. When Golf Di­gest pub­lished ex­cerpts this week about Woods’ self-im­posed pres­sure to catch Nick­laus and se­ri­ous con­tem­pla­tion of be­com­ing a Navy SEAL, agent Mark Stein­berg lashed out.

“His arm­chair psy­chol­ogy about Tiger, on mat­ters he ad­mits they didn’t even dis­cuss, is ridicu­lous,” Stein­berg said in a state­ment. “The dis­rup­tive tim­ing of this book shows that

AN­DREW HARNIK/THE WASHINGTON TIMES

Man­ager Davey John­son (cen­ter) would rather the Na­tion­als win their di­vi­sion than worry about get­ting into the play­offs as a wild card.

Tiger Woods

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