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Pure fiction

Debunking the biggest myths of MLB's wild-card era

Posted: Tuesday September 25, 2007 11:27AM; Updated: Tuesday September 25, 2007 2:29PM
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If history is any indication, the September swoon for Paul Lo Duca and the Mets shouldn't have a big impact on their playoff fortunes -- if they reach the postseason.
If history is any indication, the September swoon for Paul Lo Duca and the Mets shouldn't have a big impact on their playoff fortunes -- if they reach the postseason.

Sure, the wild-card system works at keeping pennant hopes alive in more cities. But if it's so great, why do we get the Yankees and Red Sox in the last week of the season in a "battle" for first place in which neither team will play very hard to win the division? Baseball needs to add a second wild card in each league -- and a play-in game between wild cards before the Division Series -- to make division races meaningful.

"I don't think the wild cards are at much of a disadvantage," Yankees manager Joe Torre said. "There should be more of an advantage earned for winning your division."

Teams have figured out that finishing in second place is no different than finishing first when it comes to their postseason chances. Wild-card teams are 26-20 in postseason series -- and in the past five years have accounted for more World Series appearances (six) and more world championships (three) than division winners (four pennants, two championships).

But while everybody seems to understand that finishing second can be just as rewarding as finishing first, why do other untruths about the postseason continue to flourish? This is the week you'll hear all about the importance of "hot teams," "home field advantage" and "season series."

Are the Red Sox and Mets in trouble because of a spotty September? Shouldn't a team push for the best record in the league this week to get home field advantage? And shouldn't the Indians (0-6 in the season series vs. New York) be afraid of the Yankees? It's almost all hogwash -- talk-radio prattle and off-day newspaper filler that means very little. To set the record straight, here are the top four myths about postseason baseball in the wild-card era:

1. The team with the better record is the favorite.

Baloney. That might have been true before full revenue sharing kicked in. But now the playing field in baseball is more level than it has ever been. The difference between the supposed best team in baseball and the 15th-best team in baseball is far narrower than what it was even eight years ago.

Want proof? From 1995 through '99, the team with the better record won 52.5 percent of postseason series (21-19). Since 2000 the team with the better record has won only 36.2 percent of the time (17-30). Basically, there's no such thing as an upset anymore.

2. The "hot" teams -- the ones that play well down the stretch -- are the ones to fear in the postseason.

Hello? Was anybody watching last year? St. Louis (12-17) and Detroit (12-16) were awful in September, but wound up playing each other in the World Series.

But it's not just last year. Of the 24 World Series teams in the wild-card era, 14 of them -- a clear majority -- posted a worse winning percentage after Sept. 1 than they did overall. The Cardinals and Tigers were the sixth and seventh teams in that 12-year period to play losing baseball after Sept. 1 and still reach the World Series.

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