At first, I couldn’t stand the wild card game. For teams to play a 162 game season only to be eliminated after one game just didn’t sit right with me. It especially bothered me when Pittsburgh had the second best record in the league only to run into Jake Arrieta while he was on his immaculate run and the red hot Cubs. It just didn’t seem like it had a place in a game where one game eliminations were unheard of.
As more wild card games have played out, I must say that my opinion has changed. For starters, the wild card team was winning the World Series far too much. It oftentimes went to the team that was red hot, and then that team would proceed to steamroll the team that had the best record in their respective leagues. A good example of this is when the Cardinals beat the Phillies in 2011. With the wild card game, the team that wins has their momentum blunted significantly.
For one, the team generally uses their best pitcher to get past the one game playoff. This puts the wild card team at a disadvantage to the team that won the league. This is only fair, since winning the league in a 162 game season is quite the accomplishment and deserves a bigger reward than just home field advantage. In addition to that, teams will typically use traditional starters in relief. The best example of this is how the Diamondbacks used Robbie Ray in relief this year and had to end up using Taijuan Walker in game one of the NLDS.
In addition to the advantages/disadvantages it provides to teams, the game is just downright entertaining. Teams often do unconventional things when facing elimination, such as using starters in relief and pulling starting pitchers at the first sign of trouble. The game makes for an incredibly tense atmosphere that is fun to watch for both diehard fans and those that barely watch baseball.
More traditional fans are still probably wary of the wild card game, but I say embrace it. It could be used as a vehicle to grow the game and gives an edge to the team that had a better regular season. So long as it doesn’t expand to “the wild card series”, I’m alright with it.