The second Wild Card was added because Selig disliked teams being perfectly okay with settling for the Wild Card once they had a playoff spot secured. Teams often "relaxed" in mid-late September because winning the division didn't matter when they were already assured a playoff spot, although a lot of us fans would argue otherwise. Selig, unhappy with the Wild Card teams not being punished enough, now makes it so they get to deal with the randomness of a one-game playoff. All this because winning the division is super important. So teams will no longer relax until they win the division. Huzzah. Win for Baseball and its fans. Right?
When I was discussing the new Wild Card with a friend we eventually arrived to how I thought it was unfair to give inferior teams shots at a playoff spot after a long 162 game season, because the regular season alone should be enough to decide the winners. Personally, I think the top four teams in each league are the ones deserving of a playoff spot. I think the best way to structure that would be to remove the divisions and balance the schedule, something that I think a lot of people would want. No arbitrary divisions, no Wild Card, no annoying inter-league play, and no teams playing their "rivals" twenty times a year and another team just nine times. After the season is over, the teams with the four best records in each league would move on to the playoffs.
To me it seems like that would be the best way to go about things. The new Wild Card system certainly won't allow for that. But it got me curious about how good the old three divisions + WC format was at getting the "deserving" teams into the playoffs based on the criteria that a team had to end up with a top four record in each league. It seemed to work about half the time. Here are the times it didn't work:
1997 - The Mets and Dodgers both posted better records than the NL central winning Astros, but didn't make it.
2000 - Our beloved Yankees had the fifth best record in the AL but were awarded with a playoff spot while the Indians went home early despite having a better record. The Yankees went on to win the World Series - their third in a row.
2001 - The Giants 90-72 record wasn't as good as the Braves 88-74 record because they didn't win the arbitrary division.
2003 - The Twins AL fifth best record was considered better than the Mariners fourth best record because... ???
2005 - The Phillies, Mets, and Marlins all outperformed the NL West winning Padres. Didn't matter.
2006 - The Phillies miss the playoffs for the second year in a row despite having the NL's fourth best record both years. The fifth best Cardinals went on to win the World Series.
2007 - The Mets (poor guys) and the Padres posted better records than the NL Central winning Cubs but weren't allowed to play in October.
2008 - The Mets (heh...) had the fourth best record in the NL but the Dodgers won the NL West and went through instead.
So, what can we conclude from this? One thing we know for sure is that the three divisions + Wild Card format was designed to screw over the Mets. Another thing we know is that it wasn't very effective at being fair if we want our playoff teams to be the teams with the best records. That format failed eight out of the sixteen years it existed by allowing inferior teams into the playoffs over teams that deserved it.
So here we are with a second Wild Card. This new WC system is going to allow even more teams into the playoffs that have no business being there. Are divisions really this important? Are they so important that we should punish non-division winners by throwing them into the randomness of a one-game playoff after a 162 game season determined they were fourth best and deserve to get into the playoffs based on their record?
It seems to me that winning the division is just an arbitrary requirement to getting into the playoffs when there are eight spots and only six divisions. It just doesn't work. If there were eight divisions it would work better, but there would still be instances of teams performing better than other division winners yet still missing the playoffs. To me, divisions seem unnecessary for a game like Baseball. After a long 162 game season a team's record -- the way the performed during this arduous process -- should be what gets them into the playoffs.