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Hummel: Jocketty sees need to have wild card face tougher tests

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  • Hummel: Jocketty sees need to have wild card face tougher tests

    Jocketty sees need to give wild cards tougher test
    By Rick Hummel
    St. Louis Post-Dispatch

    The fact that the Cardinals might win 100 games as a division champion and meet a team that's barely .500 (the San Diego Padres) in the first round of the playoffs doesn't really bother Cardinals general manager Walt Jocketty.

    "It's the way the system is right now," Jocketty said. "If we end up playing them or whoever wins the West, they're a division winner and you've got to give them credit for that. But I still think you've got to find a way of handicapping it a little bit better with the wild-card teams.

    "There's got to be a way to give the division winners a greater advantage."

    If the Cardinals were to play a wild-card winner other than Houston in the first round (Philadelphia and Florida are the top candidates), their only advantage would be that they would open at home in the five-game series and have the decisive fifth game on Busch Stadium soil if the series went that far. Wild-card teams have won the last three World Series, and Jocketty feels they should be put at more of a disadvantage, certainly in the first round.

    "One thing I would consider is giving the wild-card team no home games (in the first round), but they would get a financial cut of some sort, so they aren't necessarily losing any money," Jocketty said.

    "The wild-card team usually is playing the team with the best record and that team (with the best record) should have more of an advantage in a short series than just three home games."

    Jocketty even would favor a 2-1-2 split, guaranteeing the wild-card team one home game, but also assuring that the series would start and probably finish at the site of the division champion.

    "That would make more sense," he said. "It would be better than what we have now."

    Although the Cardinals might play the playoff team with the worst record anyway this year, Jocketty also wouldn't mind if the playoff teams were seeded 1 through 4, regardless of divisional ties. Under this format, divisional foes could play in the first round.

    "There's some validity to that," Jocketty said. "You may end up playing a team in the same division at some point anyway."

    Indeed, the last two American League Championship Series have matched teams from the same division in Boston and New York, and the Cardinals and Central Division rival Houston squared off last year in the NLCS.

    But, even then, the wild-card team wasn't at much of a disadvantage. For instance, after five games in the 2-3-2 format, the wild-card team (Houston and Boston last year) had played more home games than the division champion team (St. Louis, New York).

    Jocketty considered that in such an instance, baseball could go to the 2-2-1-1-1 format favored by the National Hockey League and National Basketball Association for playoffs. In that framework, the team with the best record would never, at any point, have played fewer home games than the team with the inferior record.

    The NFL takes care of its best teams by giving them first-round byes. In theory, Jocketty said, "that would be nice. But I think that probably would be too much time to have off. It could be as much as a week and that's a long time. It would be tough to keep your pitching sharp."

    So, in essence, the Cardinals' expected total of 100 victories will give them very little advantage two weeks from now. "One of the problems with the formula right now," Jocketty said, "it's almost that what you've accomplished during the season has no bearing on the postseason."

    No matter who the Cardinals play in the first round - San Diego, Philadelphia or Florida - they hardly have established any dominance.

    The Padres won four of seven from the Cardinals, including three of four at Busch Stadium in May. Although all the games were played in April and May, the Phillies won four of six from the Cardinals, including two of three at Busch.

    Florida split four games here and was 3-4 against the Cardinals for the season. So it is clear that none of the three possible opponents has much reservation about being able to play here, although all of them are under .500 on the road for the season.

    The Cardinals, before Tuesday, were baseball's best road team at 48-27 and they were the best last year, too, at 52-29. But that meant little in the postseason. Playing seven road games against Los Angeles, Houston and Boston, the Cardinals won only one.

    But the Cardinals at least know they are in the postseason. In the American League, the team that has led its division for 171 straight days is finding itself in danger of not even making the playoffs or, at least blowing what once was a 15-game lead in its division.

    The Chicago White Sox, who also had the majors' best record for most of the season, are desperately trying to hold off the rhino-like charge of the Cleveland Indians for the Central Division lead.

    General manager Ken Williams, trying to soothe anxious White Sox fans, implored, "Please, stay off the ledges."
    [/b][/quote]I've long been an advocate of a 2-1-2 format...

    "Can't buy what I want because it's free...
    Can't buy what I want because it's free..."
    -- Pearl Jam, from the single Corduroy