Sometimes sports can be cruel, and the American and National League Wild Card Games are perfect examples. 

Major League Baseball’s 162-game regular-season schedule is a serious commitment for players and fans alike. The players must grind through the dog days of summer and all the peaks and valleys that come with them, while the fans must devote significant chunks of their time to watching, attending and following such a large number of games.

However, that investment and journey will come to a sudden end for two teams and their fanbases in the single-elimination, do-or-die Wild Card Games. The Toronto Blue Jays will host the Baltimore Orioles in the American League contest on Tuesday, and the New York Mets will host the San Francisco Giants in the National League’s on Wednesday.

With that in mind, here is a deeper explanation of the format as well as an unfortunate prediction for the eventual National League winner.


Format Explanation

The MLB playoffs previously included just four teams for each league (three division winners and a wild card), but a fifth team was added in the form of a second wild-card squad in 2012.

Since then, the two teams with the best records in the National League that didn’t win a division have faced off in the Wild Card Game for the right to advance to the Divisional Series. The same format is used in the American League, and the team with the better record hosts the game.

The winners of the two Wild Card Games will battle the No. 1 seed in each respective league in the Divisional Series.

This year’s winner-takes-all American League Wild Card Game pits the Orioles against the Blue Jays on Tuesday. The National League Wild Card Game takes place on Wednesday and features a showdown between the Giants and Mets.

The American League Divisional Series starts Thursday, and the National League Divisional Series begins Friday. While the Wild Card Games are each one-game battles, the Divisional Series is a best-of-five affair, with the better seed enjoying home-field advantage in Games 1, 2 and 5.

The No. 1 seed faces the Wild Card Game winners, while the Nos. 2 and 3 seeds in each league play in the other Divisional Series.


Prediction: National League Wild Card Winner Will Lose the Divisional Series

Despite the fact the wild-card teams will face the No. 1 seeds in the Divisional Series, it is actually going out on more of a historical limb to say the winner of the NL Wild Card Game will lose the best-of-five showdown. 

The Chicago Cubs advanced all the way to the National League Championship Series last year after starting in the Wild Card Game. The 2014 World Series featured two teams that began their postseason journeys as wild cards, when the Kansas City Royals faced the San Francisco Giants, and the St. Louis Cardinals reached the NLCS in 2012 after winning the Wild Card Game.

However, this year’s wild-card winner will have a short postseason, largely because of the team it will face in the Divisional Series. It will already be fighting an uphill battle in the pitching matchups after using Madison Bumgarner (if it’s San Francisco) or Noah Syndergaard (if it’s New York) on Wednesday, and the Cubs will make quick work of it at the next stage.

The 103-58 Cubs sport the best record in baseball under the direction of three-time Manager of the Year Joe Maddon. While they haven’t won a World Series since 1908, they are perfectly positioned to change that this year with a dominant starting pitching staff, formidable offense and shutdown bullpen trio.

Jake Arrieta won the National League Cy Young last year, and he is likely the third-best starter on the Cubs in 2016 thanks to the presence of Jon Lester and Kyle Hendricks. Lester and Hendricks were both forces in this year’s Cy Young race and will give Chicago a potent one-two punch before shifting to Arrieta.

As for the offense, Kris Bryant is a National League MVP candidate, and Anthony Rizzo provides plenty of lefty pop. Complementary pieces to that powerful heart of the order include Addison Russell, Dexter Fowler, Ben Zobrist and Javier Baez. Even Jason Heyward is capable of driving any given pitch despite his struggles this year.

If the offense gets the lead and the combination of Lester, Hendricks and Arrieta maintains it, Maddon will hand the ball to a bullpen that features Pedro Strop, Hector Rondon and Aroldis Chapman.

Tom Fornelli of pointed out just how difficult a task beating the Cubs in October will be for the Wild Card Game winner:

That formula could lead the Cubs to a drought-busting triumph, and they will start their postseason with a relatively straightforward Divisional Series victory.

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