The real wild-card effect

The wild card has brought excitement, like this winning Matt Holliday slide against the Padres in 2007. Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

As October draws closer, baseball fans have some shopworn sentiments to trot out:

1) This is the exciting part of the season; there's a lot more tension as teams jockey for position.

2) Or it would be, if it weren't for that stupid wild card.

Players and teams that perform well down the stretch are viewed as clutch because, later on in the season, the games allegedly matter more. But do they really? And has the wild card really drained the drama from the stretch run? And as baseball discusses adding another wild card, would that really add to the excitement?

Logic would suggest that the number of games you win matters far more than the order in which they are won. Games late in the schedule seem more important because it's far more apparent at that point how many games a team needs to win to make the playoffs.

It's also far more apparent which teams are in the playoff hunt at all, which leads to a counterintuitive finding -- it's actually the games early on in the season that have the greatest effect on a team's playoff chances.