Last year, the New York Mets lost to the Florida Marlins at Shea Stadium on the final day of the season and missed the playoffs by one game. 365 days, 162 games, a new ace and a new manager later, the Mets lost to the Florida Marlins at Shea on the final day of the season and missed the playoffs by one game. Baseball is a hard game.
As for the bigger picture ... once again, the wild card (and revenue-sharing) era produced a pretty damn good regular season: Four teams playing for their life on the final day (which turned out to not quite be the last day, after all), a famous dynasty falling on (semi-) hard times, and the Brewers and the Rays taking over the feel-good, drought-ending role the Rockies played last year. Now the question is whether, once again, the wild card-era postseason will turn out to be a bust. Here's my litany of complaints, from last year:
... the expanded playoff system, while it's had its moments, comes with an awful lot of built-in problems: The 3-of-5 first round is engineered to produce sweeps and injects an enormous crapshoot effect into an already overly-random system; the sheer number of teams that make the playoffs prevents postseason rivalries from taking shape (not just the ancient Dodgers-Yankees rivalries, I mean, but also the great '70s battles between the Orioles and the A's, or the Yankees and the Royals or the Phillies and the Dodgers); you end up with too many series where a mediocre team, having lucked into a victory in the preceding round, is wildly overmatched against its next opponent; the built-in off days, which increased this fall for no good reason, create enormous amounts of momentum-sapping dead time (hello, Rockies!); the plethora of games makes each individual contest and series less memorable, even if it's really good; and finally, the whole thing just seems too damn long ...
Regarding the issue of days off and dead time, the fact that the Red Sox and Angels will be only three games deep into their best-of-five series a Sunday doesn't exactly suggest that the higher-ups have any plans to fix the problem - or that they consider it a problem at all. The rest, though, is up to the players. Here's hoping for something special, before summer finally goes out.
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