Extra playoff berth could be timely for D-backs
PHOENIX – The extra wild-card berth available this season seems to be the furthest thing from the Diamondbacks' minds, even if it could turn out to be the best thing for them.
Wild card, schmild card.
"The bar needs to be set high, and that’s where ours is set," shortstop Willie Bloomquist said." Our goals are to win the division. To start talking about wild card potential at this stage is not setting our sights where they need to be … like we’ll settle for second best instead of winning our division.
"I don’t want to go there."
With 100 games left in the regular season, Bloomquist makes a good point. There is plenty of time for the D-backs to overcome a rough start due in part to injuries and an inconsistent offense. The D-backs are closer to complete health as Stephen Drew, Takashi Saito and Geoff Blum continue their rehab work, and they have begun to hit as projected.
At (30-32) entering Thursday's series finale against Texas, the D-backs are nine games behind the NL West-leading Dodgers and 5 1/2 games behind the second-place Giants while sitting on a schedule designed to make up for lost ground. The D-backs have 13 games remaining against the Dodgers -- six in the last 31 days of the season. They play the Giants nine more times, all in the final 27 games. Division races have swung in less time.
At the same time, the addition of a second wild card tightens the race even more. In the bigger picture, the D-backs are 3 1/2 out of the second wild card, a good two weeks away from trimming the margin to nothing. It is not too early to track, Blum said.
"If you don’t know where you stand, why are you playing? That’s like saying you don’t look up and see what your batting average up on the scoreboard. If you are that guy who doesn’t care about standings, you don’t care about the team," said Blum, who likes the new format particularly for the reason that it could benefit the D-backs this year.
"If you have good teams that get off to slow starts, it still keeps them in the mix. Every year, there is a team or two that misses out on the playoffs that probably deserves to be there, but because of injuries they are not able to battle back that late in the season."
So while no team begins the season shooting to be a wild card, getting into the playoffs is the bottom line. Winning the wild card has hardly been a deterrent in the postseason.
Since 2000, nine wild-card teams have advance to the World Series, and four have won it. St. Louis is the poster child, qualifying for the playoffs on the dramatic final day of the 2011 regular season before beating Philadelphia, Milwaukee and Texas to win the Series. The Angels, Florida and Boston won the Series as wild cards from 2002-04. Detroit made the Series as a wild card in 2006, Colorado in 2007.
"It’s obviously good, because it gives teams another chance," pitcher Joe Saunders said. "In this game, it is not always the best team that gets there, it is who is the hot team who is in there, like the Cardinals last year."
"They turned it on in September and kept it going. You never know in this game. It’s just about getting in. And if you are hot and you get in, heads up."
In four of the last five seasons, an NL West team would have been the second wild card had one existed. San Diego missed the playoffs by one game in 2007 and 2010. First-year D-back Jason Kubel would have made the playoffs with Minnesota in 2008 under the new system. The Twins tied the White Sox for the AL Central title but lost in a one-game playoff. Both would have made the postseason with a second wild card.
"It’s good for anybody," Kubel said. "If that’s the way we get in, so be it. It brings more excitement to more teams. There is more drama and excitement toward the end. It’s going to be good for baseball. It’s fun. It’s exciting. It’s stressful.”
The two wild cards will meet in a one-game playoff Oct. 5, with the winner of that game advancing to a best-of-five series division against the team with the best record in the league. This season only, the winner of the one-game playoff will play host to the first two games of the division series beginning Oct. 7, with the top team hosting any remaining games necessary. Another new wrinkle is that teams from the same division can meet in the division series.
Like Bloomquist, most of the D-backs -- including manager Kirk Gibson -- are not looking that far ahead.
"You can’t sit here and stress out about that," Gibson said. "You need to play good baseball and start to win series. That’s all we think about. If you continue to do that, you will give yourself an opportunity to get into the postseason. However that happens, we don’t really care."
"It’s good to have another chance. You get in the playoffs, everything can happen. Mentally-wise, things change. It can’t hurt."