Thursday, October 23, 2008


Congratulations to Phillies on last night's 3-2 win. It's good to see they still remember how to play baseball after their week off.

Baseball's asinine postseason schedule was introduced last year on the theory that the World Series would get better ratings if it started in the middle of the week. Does that really help? The last 4 Series haven't been particularly scintillating - the Champs lost a grand total of 1 game - and I'm not sure what kind of ratings they're going to get with a Tampa/Philly series under any circumstances. The minimal gains the broadcasters may or may not achieve are absolutely not worth the distortion of the competition that occurs under this format.

MLB has accommodated the later World Series start by stretching the first 2 rounds of the playoffs. Instead of one day off before the first Divisional Series begin, now there are 2 - and the competitors of the White Sox/Rays series had 3. There was an extra off-day added between games 4 and 5 (not needed this year - meaning each LCS competitor had 3 days off before that series). There is now - and this is the killer - an off-day between games 4 and 5 of the LCS even though there is no travel. And there is an extra off-day between game 7 of the LCS and the start of the World Series.

These 4 extra off-days in the early rounds of the playoffs are heinous for a number of reasons, the least of which is probably the deteriorating fall weather in the northern cities. With start times set for after 8pm Eastern time, the games are certain to last until after 11pm, getting into what can be some awfully frigid low temperatures. As we've seen the past couple of Aprils, baseball is harder to play in the cold - pitcher's have a harder time gripping the ball, hitters can have some painful swings. The closer we get to November, the more likely we are to face these adverse conditions. Are those conditions what we want to see the most important games of the year played in?

More crucially, the extended schedule interferes with the balance of the teams established over the course of the regular season. This doesn't happen in the other major sports. In the NFL, there is one game per week, and also one playoff game per week (with the frequent exception of the extra week to hype the Super Bowl). In the NBA and NHL, teams typically play about 3 games per week, and also play about 3 games per week in the playoffs. In MLB, there is a game almost every day - the All-Star break is the only time in 6 months teams will get consecutive days off - and yet the playoffs under the current format are riddled with off-days.

The cool thing about baseball is that there is nowhere to hide over the course of a 6-7 game/week for 6 months schedule. In the other sports, because of the frequent off-days, you can play your best guys every night. But in baseball, if you only have 3 good starting pitchers, you're going to have to run your 2 weak ones out there every 5th day and take your lumps. If you have 3 reliable relievers, your going to have to rest them every couple of days and cross your fingers with your lesser pitchers. Your starting catcher is going to need to rest at least one game a week. And so on. The teams with the best top-to-bottom talent will rise to the top of the standings because they can still put a strong team on the field even when they're resting their studs. (Imagine what the NFL would be like if teams had to start their 3rd-string QB every third game!) Also, there are very few 2-game series during the regular season, and no 1-gamers (unless you need a tiebreaker - sigh).

The extended schedule totally disrupts this reality. The extra off-day enables the Game 2 starter to pitch Game 5 on full rest. A 3-man rotation could pitch all 7 games of a series and only have to work on short rest once (Game 1 to Game 4). The best relievers could pitch an inning in every game and never exceed their normal regular season workload. The starting catcher can play in every game. With at least one fewer pitcher required, a team could add an extra bench player or two - speed or matchup enhancements they would have loved to have during the regular season, but couldn't afford. In short, a playoff team under this format could be a different team than the one that slogged through the regular season.

I would prefer to see the rhythm of the playoffs more closely resemble that of the regular season. If it's so important to the broadcasters to begin the World Series on a Wednesday, here's what I'd propose:

One league's Divisional Series begin on Tuesday after the season, the other's on Wednesday. They should play for 5 consecutive days - 2 in one city, 3 in the other. It would be up to the higher seeded team to decide whether they'd like to begin the series with 3 games at home or finish with 3 home games. I suspect most would opt for the latter, figuring they could split on the road and then force their opponent to close it out in hostile territory - though they may decide that the pitchers they have lined up to start the series do better at home - or whatever. The series conclude on Saturday and Sunday.

It's now the 2nd week of October. One LCS begins on Monday, the other on Tuesday. They play for 7 consecutive days, 3 in one city, 4 in the other. Again, the higher seed gets to choose the order. These series conclude on Sunday and Monday. After a travel day for the later finisher, we're ready to begin the World Series on Wednesday - but of the 3rd week of October instead of the 4th.

If the early rounds go the distance, you're looking at 12 games in 13 days, just like the regular season. If teams decide to hide their #5 starters or ride their best bullpen arms, they're risking some serious fatigue. That gives the advantage to the teams that have the confidence to use everybody on the roster - just like they did all summer long when they were winning enough games to make it to October in the first place.

No comments: