This past weekend, I returned to football tailgating for the first time since that damned virus altered our lives forever. Man, was it nice, though that's not our topic for this space. During the course of said tailgate, I got into a fun conversation with someone who called himself a causal baseball fan. He doesn't have a favorite team and doesn't follow the sport on a daily basis, but he likes it. 

The biggest takeaway from the conversation was that -- as much as many old-school, purist baseball fans might hate it -- the wild card is very good for business. 

This guy was telling me how much he loves checking the standings now each day to see the race for the wild card and he loves how after a 162-game marathon, two non-division winners are forced into a do-or-die situation. I wouldn't be discussing this if I thought he was alone. I believe there are a large number of sports fans out there who don't watch regular-season baseball on a regular basis but will be enchanted by the Wild Card Games this season. 

Look, we all know the die-hard fan perspective. It's true that a one-and-done game after 162 flies in the face of everything baseball has always been. I'd also say to those worried about a team "unfairly" being bounced from the Wild Card Game that there's a very simple remedy: Win the division. 

For those teams in contention who aren't taking that advice this season, they are providing loads of entertainment and will continue to do so through the two win-or-go-home contests in early October.

In the National League, forget about the top spot. That's the Dodgers in a romp. The Reds and Padres are currently tied for the second spot with the Cardinals only one game back. How great is that? Three teams within one game of one playoff spot. The Phillies are only 2 1/2 games back, too, and the Mets are also within striking range. 

The American League is even tastier, though. The Blue Jays and Red Sox are currently in a virtual tie for both spots with the Yankees only one game back and the A's and Mariners both three games out. Five teams within three games for two spots with just three weeks to go! Beautiful. 

Both of these races are going to be amazing down the stretch before we even get to the big-time drama of the wild card games themselves. 

Biggest Movers
3 Blue Jays
3 Mariners
1 Giants At 93, the Giants now have more regular-season wins in 2021 than they had in 2010, 2012 or 2014. -- 31-30
2 Dodgers They have now won all eight games Max Scherzer has started. -- 35-27
3 Brewers Since Cy Young in 1905, only one pitcher in history has ever struck out at least 210 hitters while walking fewer than 30. Corbin Burnes right now has 210 strikeouts and 29 walks. 1 34-28
4 Rays The magic number for their first-ever back-to-back division titles is down to 10. 1 45-19
5 Astros Sunday was Yuli Gurriel's third four-hit game of the season. He only had four total coming into this year. -- 36-26
6 Blue Jays The Jays have now won 14 of their last 16. This is one scary offense that no contender wants to deal with in the playoffs. 3 35-28
7 White Sox Craig Kimbrel has now allowed at least one run in seven of his 18 appearances since the White Sox acquired him. 1 27-35
8 Red Sox If they had their choice of who starts the Wild Card Game (meaning both would be fully rested), would they go with Chris Sale or Nathan Eovaldi? 1 31-31
9 Braves Guess who leads the NL in RBI? Adam Duvall! 3 37-24
10 Yankees There was a stretch in April and May where the Yankees won 22 of 30. They recently won 13 games in a row. It's a lot more complicated than this, obviously, but they've been pretty damn bad aside from those two stretches. 2 36-26
11 Padres Since Aug. 10, the Padres have gone 8-19. Only the Orioles and Nationals have been worse. -- 29-33
12 Athletics Matt Olson now has 34 homers and 98 RBI. Other than Khris Davis, no A's player has had 40 homers and 100 RBI in a season since Jason Giambi. 1 14-50
13 Mariners They got within a game of the second AL wild card and then lost two to the Diamondbacks. That ain't gonna do it. 3 30-31
14 Cardinals Since Aug. 15, the Cardinals have gone 12-13 and yet they've quietly moved nearly into playoff position. -- 26-37
15 Reds It's right there for the taking, Reds. You have nine games left with the Pirates and four against the Nationals. A worthy playoff team would quit messing around and take care of business. -- 29-33
16 Mets Huge week coming for the Mets, as they host both the Cardinals and Phillies for three-game series. -- 30-32
17 Phillies Look, I've done all I can to try and push the Phillies as a threat in the NL East, but when they lose three of four to the Road Rockies, it's time to wash my hands of this team. -- 29-32
18 Angels Jo Adell has a modest eight-game hitting streak, during which he's hit .367 with a triple, three homers and eight RBI. Remember, he's still only 22 years old. 1 33-30
19 Guardians It's pretty impressive, really, that this team is even close to .500 with this brutal offense. 1 28-33
20 Rockies The Rockies lost four in a row at home and then went on the road and won three of four. What is this madness? I've lost all faith in humanity. -- 26-37
21 Tigers Jeimer Candelario has three doubles, a triple, four homers and 13 RBI in 10 games this month. -- 26-33
22 Royals Has a team ever been last in its league in home runs while also having the individual league leader? I need to find that out soon. I mention it because the Royals are last in the AL in homers but Salvador Perez (42) is close to the AL lead. -- 18-44
23 Cubs Ian Happ's power surge continues. He now has eight homers in his last 16 games. -- 26-35
24 Twins Andrelton Simmons is still an exceptional defensive shortstop, but his one-year "bet on himself" deal this year has produced a pitiful triple slash line of .225/.288/.277. 1 31-31
25 Marlins Jesús Luzardo has a 2.60 ERA with 19 strikeouts in 17 1/3 innings in his last three starts. Perhaps the corner is being turned? 1 35-28
26 Nationals In an otherwise terrible year, Patrick Corbin has now completed seven innings in consecutive outings. Maybe he can build some momentum toward a bounce-back season in 2022. He's signed through 2024. -- 25-36
27 Rangers The Rangers have now won six of their last seven. -- 40-21
28 Pirates The Pirates are going to impact the wild card race. They have nine games left against the Reds and four with the Phillies. -- 32-29
29 Diamondbacks The worst record in franchise history (51-111 in 2004) is likely out of reach, but this team will end up second worst. -- 37-25
30 Orioles Prior to 2018, the Baltimore Orioles had only recorded two 100-loss seasons in history. After three more losses, that will be three consecutive full seasons with at least 100 losses. -- 37-24