Adding a wild card is ‘going to help us,’ but caution abounds
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
Manager Davey Johnson (center) would rather the Nationals win their division than worry about getting into the playoffs as a wild card.