|Jose Valverde and Prince Fielder are quite possibly freaking out over the various AL wild-card scenarios. (Associated Press)|
Let's assume that the current AL division leaders -- i.e., the Yankees, White Sox and Rangers -- hang on. Where does that leave us? In all likelihood, that leaves us with a hotly fought struggle for the two AL wild-card berths.
Feast your eyes upon the current AL wild-card standings ...
As you can see, the race for the second wild-card spot, presently claimed by the Tigers, includes five other teams within 1.5 games and a sixth team at 3.5 games back. (Let's also note that the Angels have only a 1.0-game cushion between themselves and the Tigers, so their spot is far from secure.)
For comparison's sake, know one year ago on this date, the Yankees held the AL wild-card lead, and the Rays were their closest pursuer, at 5.5 games back. You may recall that the 2011 AL wild-card race managed a rather thrilling finish. While one should never bank on 2011 levels of narrative intrigue, it's worth noting that the 2012 AL fray is much better positioned to provide a classic stretch drive.
And before you dismiss what you see above as a playoff-expansion contrivance, please note that this would be a crowded, compressed field even under the old, single-wild-card rules. We've got, with roughly two-and-a-half months left in the regular season, eight teams fighting for two playoff berths. One might call the whole thing "wonderfully muddled."
How crazy could things get? Not long ago Jim Rygelski of SABR went back and determined which teams would have claimed the second wild-card berth since 1995. Now check out the scenario he lays out for 1996:
In 1996, Seattle, which didn't make the playoffs, would have been required to make up a rained-out game, which if it lost would have resulted in a three-way tie for the second wild-card spot; MLB has never had a three-way end of the regular season tie for a postseason position.
Obviously, we don't need a make-up situation for three (or five!) teams to wind up deadlocked for that second wild-card berth. Any kind of round-robin resolution to it all would, of course, cause MLB to push back its already cramped postseason schedule.
It doesn't take much of an imagination to foresee a rather coconuts final day of the season followed by an equally coconuts day of hastily assembled tiebreakers to sort out the AL wild-card races.
And that's a good thing, right?