By Andrew Perna
This week's Wild Card double-header may go down in history as one of the greatest additions to October baseball since the first Wild Card was introduced. It may also go down as the worst change made to the postseason since ... well, since the Wild Card was first adapted. It all depends on your preference.
In trying to remain indifferent to the change, I found it enjoyable to see dozens of teams alive in September and in the end it provided a nice follow-up to the organic drama we saw on the final day in 2011. Still, the action wasn't as epic as it was just a year ago when the Rays caught the Red Sox and the Cardinals caught the Braves.
If nothing else it proves that you can't manufacture drama, even if we did see two division races go down to Game 162.
Regardless of how you feel about the new playoff structure, the Braves, Cardinals, Orioles and Rangers are all in -- even if they only last a single game. Baltimore and Texas will battle for the right to face the Yankees, while the Nationals will await the winner of Atlanta-St. Louis.
The success rate of picking the winner of a one-game playoff isn't in my favor, so I've opted to rank this year's Wild Card teams in terms of championship probability. In other words, which of these four clubs has the best chance to not only win their Wild Card playoff, but also the LDS and LCS en route to a World Series ring?
1. St. Louis Cardinals
The defending World Series champions won it all as a Wild Card in 2011, but their path is even tougher this time around because they also have to dispatch of the Braves in a winner-take-all game. At 88-74, St. Louis has the worst record of the four teams, but the most experience actually winning games in October.
In our final 2012 RealGM team rankings, the Cardinals finished fifth (the highest of all WC clubs and behind only the Nationals, Yankees, Reds and Rays). They also have the highest run differential (+117) of the Wild Cards and finished the regular season with 12 wins in 15 games.
2. Texas Rangers
Josh Hamilton and Co. stumbled into the playoffs, losing seven of their final 10 games and the AL West to the Athletics on Wednesday afternoon, but a win against the Orioles would erase the bad taste entirely. They led all of baseball with 808 runs scored and were second only to the Yankees in OPS (.780).
The issue for Texas on Friday, and should they advance, will be on the mound. As a team their 3.99 ERA was right in the middle of the pack and rookie Yu Darvish will be thrown right into the fire in a must-win game against Baltimore.
3. Atlanta Braves
With 94 wins, the Braves would have won the AL Central and tied for both the AL West and NL West, but they had no such luck because they share a division with the resurgent Nationals. Atlanta took five of six from St. Louis this season, but all six of those games came before the All-Star break.
Speaking of the unpredictability of baseball, Kris Medlen will take the mound for the Braves on Friday. Atlanta hasn’t lost with Medlen on the mound since seemingly the 1940s, but all good things must come to an end.
4. Baltimore Orioles
They may be fourth on this list, but the Orioles would surprise no one if they represented the AL in the Fall Classic a few weeks from now. They have virtually no experience in big games, but proved time and time again down the stretch (and especially in extra-inning affairs) that a team can simply act like they’ve been here before and succeed.
Chris Davis and Mark Reynolds are two of the most dangerous hitters in the game and a few well-timed home runs can go a very long way in October.
St. Louis Cardinals, Texas Rangers, Atlanta Braves, Baltimore Orioles