Tracee Hamilton
Tracee Hamilton
Columnist

AL and NL wild card races: Red Sox, Rays, Cardinals, Braves in one day fight for their lives

Patrick Semansky/AP - Red Sox shortstop Marco Scutaro, center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury and second baseman Dustin Pedroia, from left, high-five teammates after defeating the Baltimore Orioles Tuesday night.

Is there anything better than looking at those wild-card standings on the final day of the regular season and seeing those little dashes under “games back”? Well, if you’re a fan of Boston, Tampa Bay, Atlanta or St. Louis, there are probably better things, but for the rest of us who don’t have a horse in this particular derby – bring it!

I’m not crazy about a lot of Major League Baseball’s moves and decisions, from the designated hitter to its blind spot regarding performance-enhancing drugs. However, adding a wild card to postseason play was a great move, particularly in seasons such as this one, when the division races were decided early. This morning, among the six divisions, the smallest gap between first and second place is the NL Central, where the Brewers’ lead is six games.

But oh, those wacky wild cards – all tied up on the final day of the season. Fun! And fans across the country will get to watch at least two of the games on television. More fun!

No team has blown a nine-game lead in September – until the Red Sox did it. Boston was the pick of many to win the World Series this year, and not all of them were Sawx fans. And then came the swoon, and the Tampa Bay Rays, in roughly that order.

Since Aug. 27, Boston has won 10 and lost 20. The chairs in the clubhouse have been replaced by Victorian fainting couches. So the Sox have to beat the Orioles Wednesday night and hope the Rays lose to the Yankees – although it’s hard to imagine the Yankees doing Boston any favors. Then again, the Yankees might want to face the Red Sox in their current state. But no matter who wins the AL wild card, that team would not play New York in the first round. Wild card winners normally play the division winner with the best record, but not when the division winner is in the same division as the wild card winner.

(Which means having division rivals play each other in the final week of the season is yet another great idea – teams can’t tank in order to determine who’ll they face in the postseason. Two compliments for MLB; I need to rest my head on my desk a moment.)

Atlanta’s collapse in the NL has been no less dramatic; it just seems that way because the Braves’ fans are less … thespian-ish. The Braves had an 8 1/2-game lead three weeks ago, but they’ve lost four in a row and eight of their last 11 games going into Wednesday’s game against Philadelphia.

But the Cardinals have been the real story in the NL race. Since Sept. 1, they are 17-8. In that same period, the Braves are 9-17. It’s no wonder fans in Atlanta booed the Braves Tuesday night – but fans in St. Louis would never, ever boo the Cardinals in a similar situation. Heck, Cards fans gave Albert Pujols a standing ovation in what might have been the team’s last home game, just in case Pujols becomes a free agent after the season and abandons St. Louis. That kind of loyalty in the face of a player defection of that magnitude is unusual, to say the least. But then, it’s not news that the Cardinals’ fans are the best in baseball.

So Wednesday night is a pretty special one for all fans, not just those in St. Louis. Then again, if all four wild card hopefuls win Wednesday, there will be one-game playoffs Thursday (in St. Louis and St. Pete) to determine the postseason representatives. And wouldn’t that be the most fun of all?

 
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