Everything’s coming up Bud

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I’m still not at all fond of the wild card play-in game, in no small part because the wild card, since it’s been introduced, has quite often been the league’s second best team. I don’t think a team should be penalized for being in the wrong division.

However, year one of the new wild card format is giving us a lot more excitement than we might have otherwise.

The NL races would have been all but over with three weeks to go if not for the second wild card. The division titles are set. Sure, there’s a chance the Braves could collapse again and blow their big wild card lead, but it hardly seems likely. Even after losing three in a row to the Brewers, they’re still five games up on the second wild card-leading Cardinals with 18 games to play.

The American League, on the other hand, would have plenty of crazy races going on regardless. But the second wild card means there’s still some hope for the Angels and Rays, who would be pretty huge longshots otherwise. And while it is possible that the team with the league’s second-best record may well end up in the wild-card playoff game, it’s not like there’s any clear second best team in the AL right now.

Because of the second wild card, there are currently 19 teams with some shot at going to the playoffs. That’s a pretty amazing total with just 18-20 games left in the season.

Cardinals encourage players not to hide injuries

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In Major League Baseball, players are routinely pressured to play through injury and pain. Sometimes it’s just a minor ache, and sometimes it’s a very serious injury. The pressure comes from everywhere: the players themselves, their peers, coaches, front offices, media, and fans. Players who develop a reputation for landing on the disabled list are described as “soft” and “fragile.” Players who battle through the pain get talked about as “gritty” and “dedicated.”

Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports that the Cardinals are trying to encourage their players to be more honest about their health. The culture surrounding this is tough to change, but manager Mike Matheny wants his players to come to him if “anything that is off.” As Goold notes, Alex Reyes and Matt Bowman revealed they were, in Bowman’s words, not “entirely forthcoming.” Carlos Martinez said he pitched tentatively because he was “scared” of re-injuring himself. Matheny also called pitcher Michael Wacha “a great liar” when talking about his arm health.

Matt Carpenter has also played through injury and takes pride in it. He’s an example of the old mentality the club is trying to pierce through. Caarpenter said, “I’m a believer in if you’re getting paid to do a job and you’re capable of doing the job — even if it’s 85 percent of your best — I feel you have the obligation to be out there. That is the mentality I’ve always used. I could have very easily, at times last year, sat on the [disabled list], but I felt like I could still go out and do my job.”

Goold points out that players approach dealing with health issues differently depending on where they’re at in their careers. A young player who just got called up has pressure to stay in the big leagues and appear in games, so he may not want to address a health issue. A player who has already secured a multi-year contract may have less pressure on him and thus may be more willing to come to the trainer’s room.

I’ve long believed that player health will be the next arena in which front offices will separate themselves from the pack. Analytics had been that battleground for a while, but with every club now having an analytics department in some capacity, front offices will have to find value in new ways. Limiting the amount of time that players miss due to injury would be a significant boost for a team and it will start with players being forthcoming about what’s bothering them rather than trying to fight through pain.