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Mets, A's, Indians to be in wild-card hunt

By Alan Schwarz

Special to ESPN.com



What a waste. All these pundits spending all this time and all these pixels telling you who's going to win baseball's six divisions. When we all know that division winners are as relevant as Jessica Simpson's GPA.


Three of the last four World Series champions (2002 Angels, 2003 Marlins, 2004 Red Sox) were wild cards, also-rans who also ran their way to rings. Last year's wild-card Astros gave matters a good run before running into Ozzie and the wide guy in Chicago. Things are definitely out of whack when the quotation becomes, "No one remembers who finishes first."


I still remember an editor of mine who prohibited -- flat-out Heismanned -- his writers from picking a wild card to advance to the World Series. ("If they're good enough to do that," his reasoning went, "they're good enough to win the division.") But the laws we once held true no longer apply. Whether it's because wild-card teams have to fight down the stretch or because three-of-five is a glorified coin-flipping tournament -- and now for our expert commentator, Billy Beane! -- we all have learned that when the bell rings on the postseason, the titlists' bells get rung, and hard.


So let's skip the formalities. Let's accept that the meek inherit the earth, enlisted will enter the Officer's Mess, and George Mason will reach the Final Four. If you're searching for the 2006 World Series combatants, look no further than the wild-card contenders. Like these clubs:



National League

New York Mets

Wild-Card Resembled: 2003 Marlins, at least offensively. Although the Mets have assembled one of their strongest lineups ever -- with the core some mix of David Wright, Carlos Beltran, Carlos Delgado and Cliff Floyd -- Willie Randolph is one of the most aggressive managers in the big leagues. He runs Jose Reyes a ton, just like Florida did with Juan Pierre, and will exploit the Derrek Lee-type speed of Wright and Beltran to keep the pressure on opponents.


Why They Won't Win the Division: Bobby Cox and John Schuerholz, just like the '03 Marlins. After Atlanta's 14 straight division titles, including the last several during heavy roster turnover, it's foolish not to consider it the favorite. (Even though John Smoltz has coyly suggested the Mets are the team to beat.) The Braves have a more reliable rotation than New York does -- Smoltz and Tim Hudson have nowhere near the question marks that Pedro Martinez and Tom Glavine carry -- and a good enough offense to win more games than the Mets.


Why They'll Win the Wild Card: The NL West is a shambles; no second-place team should win anything close to the high 80s the Mets will. The Phillies need another frontline starter to morph into a serious contender. The only other team that should give New York a run for the wild card is …


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