By Anthony McClean, Editor In Chief Emeritus
NEW HAVEN — For many hardcore baseball fans, the jury is still out on whether they really like the Wild Card Games. Four teams bust their butts all season to reach the postseason and instead of a short series, it’s the “one and done” play-in game.
Yes, the season is usually a marathon, not a sprint. But for at least one night, that marathon only lasts for nine innings or more. Recent history has also boded well for wild card teams or those who’ve won the “play-in” game.
Just remember since 2002, we’ve seen two “wild card” World Series’. In 2002, Anaheim outlasted San Francisco in a seven-game Fall classic. The Giants would gain a measure of “revenge” when they defeated Kansas City in another seven-game tilt.
In a season where three teams have won at least 100 games for the first time since 2003, it’s really a very wide open race to the World Series. Yes, the Dodgers, Indians, and Astros all at one point this season have looked dominant. But over the years, MLB’s postseason has more resembled the look and feel of March Madness.
The “hot” team at the right time has taken home the crown much more frequently. In fact, since 1995 — the Wild Card era — teams that have either led outright or tied for the Major League lead in wins have gone on to win the Fall Classic just five times in 22 years, roughly 23 percent.
Needless to say, but these wild card winners have just as much of a say into who’ll be holding the trophy later this month. We’ll give our take on the remaining rounds a bit later, but today, let’s look at the Wild Card matchups.
Pitchers: Ervin Santana (16-8, 3.28 ERA) vs. Luis Severino (14-6, 2.98 ERA)
Season series: Yankees 4-2
The skinny: Minnesota is the first team to make the playoffs a year after losing 100 games. New York returns to the playoffs for the first time since falling to Houston in the 2015 Wild Card Game.
For what it’s worth: The teams are meeting each other for the fifth time in the postseason since MLB changed its playoff format. In fact, the Bronx Bombers have won nine straight playoff games against the Twins, and 12 of 14 dating back to 2003.
Did you know?: Santana tied Cleveland’s Corey Kluber to lead MLB with five complete games and three shutouts. He also finished the season with a 3.31 ERA in six September starts.
Prediction: The health and availability of Miguel Sano will have a lot to say about this game. However, it’s gonna really tough to go against the Yanks with a well-rested Severino and a well-rested bullpen. Gotta go with the Yankees here.
Pitchers: Jon Gray (10-4, 3.67 ERA) vs. Zack Greinke (17-7, 3.20 ERA)
Season series: D-Backs 11-8
The skinny: The Diamondbacks and Rockies have met in the postseason one previous
time in the 2007 NLCS. The Rockies swept the series, 4-0.
For what it’s worth: Gray has gone 13 games of holding opponents to three runs or less — one game shy of a club record. He also has 20 strikeouts in 13 innings over his two starts at Chase Field this season.
Did you know?: There have been three intradivisional Wild Card games since the current playoff format began in 2012, and the team with the better regular season record won all three times: Blue Jays over Orioles in 2016, Cubs over Pirates in 2015 and Pirates over Reds in 2013.
Prediction: Both clubs have literally been playing in the shadows of the Dodgers all season. The winner will get its chance to not only get another crack at them but also could deal L.A. another fatal playoff blow given the success each has had against them this season. Just a hunch, I think the Rockies will prevail.