We’re not yet to the halfway point of the 2012 season, but already the ramifications of baseball’s new two wild-card format are starting to come in to focus — and those changes may well benefit the Boston Red Sox.
In years past, hanging around the .500 mark 70 games in to the season would have been time to hit the panic button, and set up some even more interesting decisions on whether to become buyers or sellers at the trade deadline. But now, even though the Red Sox find themselves in last place in the American League East and are looking up at four teams in front of them in the wild-card standings, that crowd at the top of the leaderboard doesn’t feel so big anymore.
Just the fact that a second wild card has now been added to the MLB playoff system — now, the two wild-card winners play a one-game playoff to determine who moves further — opens up the field quite a bit, and makes it so more teams feel like they have a legitimate shot at playing deep in to October.
Currently, the Red Sox have the Orioles, Rays, and Angels above them in the standings to capture those two slots. If this were a year ago, Boston’s chances would look bleak. Though almost everyone expects Baltimore to eventually falter, it stands to reason that Tampa Bay and Los Angeles are teams that are too good not to be very competitive the rest of the way. Overtaking both of them would be a monstrous hill to climb.
Realistically, the race for the wild card from here on out will likely be a battle between these three teams. Though Toronto and Chicago also find themselves close, neither of those teams can match the complete rosters that Los Angeles, Tampa Bay and Boston own.
If things were different, then three infinitely talented teams battling for one playoff slot would look like a dogfight through the dog days of summer. As it is, the situation looks more like a game of musical chairs.
As inconsistent and disappointing as a loaded Red Sox team has looked thus far, they’ve actually put themselves in a good position to make a playoff run. Sure, the squad might have had ambitions of challenging the Yankees for the division crown, but a 4-10 start is comprised of games under .500 that have to be made up later. Overlooking that, the Red Sox are exactly where they expected to be: playing nine games over .500 and challenging the Angels and Rays for the remaining two playoff slots.
Three loaded teams vying not to be the odd man out. It should make for some exciting baseball down the stretch.