NEW YORK — It took a while and a lot of tinkering to add more and more of them but the baseball purists’ worst fears back in 1995 about the regular season being rendered meaningless with the introduction of the wild card have finally been realized. Welcome to the third all-wild card World Series and the second in a row in which one of the participants is the sixth overall seed from their league.
We commend the 84-win Diamondbacks, who’ve had everyone watching this postseason making like Butch and Sundance and asking “Who are these guys?” They did a remarkable job of perseverance, at the same time playing the game the way it’s supposed to be played (was that a sacrifice bunt I just saw?). You can understand if Buck Showalter’s been watching and saying to himself, “That coulda been us.”
I remember Showalter telling me a few days after Steve Cohen and Billy Eppler blew up the 2023 Mets that he wished he’d have been asked for his opinion. “If they had,” he said, “I’d have told them I still think we can get a wild card. We were starting to get whole, we were gonna get Edwin Diaz back at some point in September and my vote would’ve been to stay the course. I would’ve said, all you need is to just get in. Then anything can happen.”
As the Diamondbacks have proved.
But apparently nobody did ask Showalter’s opinion, just like Eppler ignored his pleas to bring up Ronny Mauricio earlier or to get rid of Daniel Vogelbach. Rather, what was apparent was that Eppler had given up on the Mets' season way before the trade deadline and was not all interested in staying the course or doing anything to help Showalter.
Since the advent of the wild card, there’ve been seven wild cards — the 1997 Marlins, 2002 Angels, ’03 Marlins, ’04 Red Sox, ’11 Cardinals, ’14 Giants and the ’19 Nationals — to go on to win the World Series and this year will be the eighth. But it’s hard to say whether MLB should be elated at this Cinderella World Series, or embarrassed. Because the decision to go to three wild cards in each league in 2022 is really coming back to haunt them.
And this year, the regular season was blown all to hell when three 100-win teams, the Braves, Orioles and Dodgers, were all knocked out of the postseason in the best-of-five divisional series, and one 99-win team, the Rays, was knocked out in the two-out-of-three wild-card series. I admit, the postseason is a crapshoot and as Buck said, “anything can happen” but there’s no way for MLB to spin the fact that none of the three best teams in baseball are in the World Series — or for that matter even the League Championship Series.
If you want to know the reason why, I would submit the absence of starting pitching.
The Braves especially, were a team built for the 162-game season, with a powerful top-to-bottom lineup that had the largest run differential, 231, of any team in baseball, along with the most runs, homers and highest OPS. But all season long they had only one consistently excellent starting pitcher in Spencer Strider. Max Fried, last year’s ace, missed three months with injuries. Rookie Bryce Elder was brilliant from April-August then hit the wall in September, and old reliable Charlie Morton had a finger injury and missed the NLDS. All season long, it was a patch work effort for the Braves with their rotation, although, to be fair, they didn’t hit a lick in the Division Series. At least in a seven-game series, they might have had time to recover.
It was pretty much the same thing with the Dodgers, who were second behind the Braves in runs homers and OPS, but got by with a decimated rotation after Tony Gonsolin and Dustin May went down injured and needed Tommy John surgery and, further, when Julio Urias was placed on administrative leave in September amid sexual assault charges. There was no way they were going anywhere in the postseason.
As for the Orioles, they have only themselves to blame for watching their first AL East title since 2014 go down in flames with a three-game wipeout by the Rangers in the Division Series. They knew they needed frontline starting pitching last winter and addressed it by going cheap and signing the mediocre Kyle Gibson. And it was same thing at the trade deadline when they refused to give up any of their highly rated (but blocked) Triple-A prospects for the White Sox’s Dylan Cease, the Cardinals’ Jordan Montgomery or the Mets’ Justin Verlander. Instead they traded a couple of non-prospects to the Cardinals for the oft-injured Jack Flaherty, who had a 6.75 ERA in seven starts and was demoted to the bullpen.
One other thing about the Diamondbacks: Watching the way they’ve played, with all their athleticism and energy, it’s hard to believe they had only two more wins than the Yankees.