DETROIT — The addition of the second Wild Card in 2012 has affected the layout of the postseason, and given teams another chance at reaching the World Series. In doing so, it opens the possibility of, in a way, settling for that one-game play-in rather than the ultimate prize of one’s respective division. At least one manager believes there should be a price to pay for that game.
The Tigers are currently battling for a spot in the second Wild Card. They’ve held a spot in the that No. 2 spot and climbed to within one game of the Indians. Detroit has also been as far back as 8 1⁄2 games in the American League Central (May 13-14) and the season had been declared over by various pundits. One of the streakiest teams in baseball simply refuses to go away.
It’s intriguing then, that its manager would advocate for a penalty to grasp that slim chance at postseason glory.
“There should be some penalty to be in the Wild Card, for not winning the division, especially with the divisions' strong schedules,” Brad Ausmus said. “You gotta burn your best pitcher to win that one game. I think that's the penalty.”
It’s not unusual for teams to use their No. 1 starter in a Wild Card game, but there are situations where that’s not a possibility. It’s a situation that the Tigers can somewhat relate to, as recently as 2014. Detroit won their division that season, but it was a slim victor and required the bullpen to show strength they weren’t known for that year.
The Tigers were two games ahead of the Royals with four games left to play in the season. But after a win against the Twins in their final regular-season series of the year, Detroit dropped back-to-back games, while the Royals won 2-of-3.
Regardless of what Kansas City did, the Tigers had to win their matchup against Minnesota to keep a one-game lead for the division title.
David Price — then the ace of the team, with Justin Verlander still returning to form post-surgery — had given up five and three runs in his previous two starts (5 2⁄3 innings and 8 2⁄3 innings, respectively). But the Tigers’ offense had given their starters more than four runs of offensive support just twice in the last 12 games, and Detroit needed perfection from Price — which they got.
Had the Tigers been battling for just any playoff spot — either the first or second Wild Card — they would’ve used up their best starter right there, just for the chance to get a chance at a “maybe” in the postseason.
Ausmus’ argument for a penalty to use their No. 1 starter could force teams to approach the impending final stretch differently, and that could extend into how teams engage the waiver deadline (August 31).
Do you push back the ace to keep him fresh for that possible game, or do you start him on short rest? Do you go out and get another mediocre starter off of waivers — and that’s if the offering team agrees to give him up once claimed — or hope for the best?
Even with the opportunity currently presented to the Tigers in their current fluky state, the Wild Card slots are not the high water mark but a last resort in Ausmus’ eyes.
“The old way was — the Wild Card, basically, once the season ended, was treated the same as the division winners,” he said. “And I don't think they should be. The goal is to win the division, and if you don't win the division there should be some penalty for it, even though you made the playoffs.”
Ausmus has previously taken umbrage with the appeal of the Wild Card over winning the division, as all managers should, but to argue for a penalty is new, and intriguing. Especially for a manager whose team is battling for the very spot being criticized.