McAdam: Don't over-hype this weekend

McAdam: Don't over-hype this weekend
August 6, 2011, 3:24 am
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By Sean McAdam
CSNNE.com Red Sox Insider Follow @sean_mcadam
This was supposed to be the start of Something Big - a three-game weekend series between the Red Sox and Yankees to decide supremacy in the American League East, and, by, extension, the entire American League.

It is, of course, no such thing.

Instead, it's a three-game set that will help determine seeding for the playoffs, and little more.

Barring a completely unforeseen collapse by either the Red Sox or Yankees, both teams will be in the playoffs. Before Friday night, both teams were on pace to win 99 games.

This isn't like last year, when the East was a crowded, three-team race and one team was going to end up on the outside looking in.

This season, the Tampa Bay Rays, winner of the division in two of the last three years, are 10 games behind both teams. The next-closest wild-card contender -- the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim - were nine games back in the loss column.

So Friday night and the rest of this weekend -- and the three games at the end of August here and the three games on the final weekend of the season -- are about playoff positioning.

One of these teams will win the division; the other will be the American League wild-card. One will have home field advantage in the Division Series and the other won't.

That's it.

That doesn't remotely qualify as a pennant race. A pennant race has something tangible at stake. Like, win or go home.

This? This is more like, win or forfeit home field advantage. Not exactly the stuff of legend.

Last September, the Yankees and Rays were in a race for the division that went right down to the final day of the season. And neither team showed the least bit of interest in the outcome.

With a chance to win the division and secure home field advantage, whom did the Yankees send to the mound for Game 162? The immortal Dustin Mosley.

Baseball has only itself to blame for this state of indifference. While the wild card has sustained interest in more cities late in the season and generally been a positive development, it is not without its flaws.

Scenarios like this year and last expose its inherent shortcomings. When MLB has two or more teams battling for the wild card spot, it offers great September drama.

When the wild card serves as a consolation prize, however, the drama is erased and what we're left with is a fake race with artificial emotion.

Chances are, if the two teams are still neck-and-neck on the final weekend of September, they'll be more interested in first-round opponents than division titles.

If winning the division means having to beat Detroit's Justin Verlander twice in a five-game series, then you'll really see some disinterest. All of a sudden, the AL East crown will be a booby prize that no one truly wants.

If, as speculated, MLB expands its playoff field for next fall with the addition of another wild card team in each league, it will be an opportunity to correct the problem.

By offering all three division winners a first-round bye -- with the two wild card teams squaring off for the right to advance - some incentive will finally be in place.

Until then, it's mere window dressing, building toward nothing more than a Kyle Weiland-Ivan Nova duel in Game No. 159.

Sean McAdam can be reached at smcadam@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Sean on Twitter at http:twitter.comsean_mcadam