Last week, ESPN ran an article with eight ideas from eight writers about how to improve Major League Baseball’s product. Jesse Rogers started off with the suggestion to offer less of it by shortening the season by a month and having the postseason run in September.
Baseball hums along just fine as America’s summer sport. The July 31 trade deadline provides energy and momentum at a time when it’s needed, but not long after teams welcome their new players, the dog days of August are upon us.
By the time the pennant races begin to heat up in September, the country has mostly moved on to football and even the start of other sports’ seasons. October arrives more with a whimper these days.
And that’s not even mentioning the teams out of the race: One month of meaningless baseball to rate prospects is just fine. Two months is too long. It always has been.
The idea of shortening the season doesn’t hold much appeal to me, mostly because I prefer the kind of baseball played over 162 games over the brand that shows up in October. The former emphasizes the on-field talent and completeness of rosters, while the latter hinges too much on managerial decisions that might be doomed regardless of the path chosen.
That said, there are stretches of a regular season where it feels like a TV show that is dealing with extra episodes ordered midseason. The writers had an original story arc for 16 episodes, but now they have 22 to deliver. In order to preserve the original conclusion, they have to spend time on non-sequiturs that run the risk of being red herrings, or maybe they’ll repeat plot points in hopes that the viewers treat it as dramatic build-up rather than filler.
I felt like I’d already seen the series the White Sox played in St. Petersburg this weekend. A highly regarded AL East team? A thrilling victory in the opener, followed by a pair of deflating losses? Are we sure this just wasn’t the Yankees series repackaged? Or maybe the Yankees series was the one that was filmed second. It’d explain why they set one of the episodes in Iowa.
PERTINENT: At ‘Field of Dreams’ site, Tim Anderson, White Sox spin a backward-looking game forward
The White Sox seem like they’re going through the motions, but the weaker elements of their roster construction naturally sap excitement. They hit the most ground balls of any American League team, their teamwide plate discipline takes a hit with Yasmani Grandal out, and their athleticism is lacking when Tim Anderson and Adam Engel sit. None of those registers as an excuse, but an explanation for why they projected short of 90 wins in the first place.
That’s where that pesky length of season rears its head. It’s really hard for a team to outrun everything it does poorly for the entire length of the schedule. Conversely, it’s hard for teams with talent to disappoint for six months. Cleveland has narrowed the gap to single digits at 9½ games, which is not enough to cause concern, but enough reason to renew the emphasis on the immediate task at hand.
The Future Guardians have what it takes to keep the White Sox honest because they’re finally finding some starting pitching after going months without. Zach Plesac hasn’t been the same since coming off the injured list, but some in-house solutions have figured something out in August:
- Cal Quantrill: 2-0, 1.45 ERA, 31 IP, 20 H, 1 HR, 10 BB, 34 K
- Triston McKenzie: 2-1, 1.93 ERA, 28 IP, 12 H, 2 HR, 2 BB, 28 K
- Eli Morgan: 1-2, 3.52 ERA, 23 IP, 17 H, 1 HR, 7 BB, 21 K
Throw in the potential of Plesac rebounding and Aaron Civale coming back from injury, and Cleveland could have enough to try hammering its usual formula. It’s probably too little too late, but just like the Yankees came roaring back to life in the AL East and the Braves took command of the NL East, those initial projections have a lot of gravitational pull.
The good news is that the Blue Jays have run into a similarly rough stretch, going 0-3-1 in their last four series against the Angels, Mariners, Nationals and Tigers. Splitting this series in Toronto means the White Sox finish four consecutive series against contender-grade clubs at 7-7, with Grandal, Engel and Carlos Rodón rejoining the season just in time for the schedule’s softening. They’d be running in place and killing time before the originally envisioned conclusion returns to the horizon, but the White Sox don’t have the luxury of refusing the studio’s demands for a longer season for an extra half-hour of runtime. They can only request the audience’s patience in tolerating the excess material.
(Photo by Kim Klement/USA TODAY Sports)
I find it tough to get in to the mentality of a sport I’ve never played at a serious level. My background being football, you never take your foot off the gas. You have that luxury though with one game a week and seasons that are dramatically shorter. So I can somewhat appreciate the measures being taken, especially this season, to make sure the best 26 players are available come playoffs. On the other hand, there are games that we just give up on before the first pitch is even thrown and that just feels weird and wrong.
Should the White Sox push for home field advantage, or should they continue to be overly cautious in resting players? Home field advantage seems to be of the biggest benefit in Baseball vs. other major sports:
1) You get to bat last in the 9th/extra innings, letting you know exactly how many runs you need.
2) The Starting Pitcher gets to get into his rhythm exactly on his schedule; the visiting starting pitcher might have to sit through a long half inning, not knowing exactly when he is going to take the mound.
3) The home team gets to sleep in their own beds rather than having to deal with a hotel.
Additionally, there is the fan aspect to consider:
1) Massive, hyped up crowds look spectacular on TV. That has to have an impact in drawing more people into buying ticket packages for the following season, theoretically increasing the team’s budget.
2) Potentially an extra few home games worth of revenue, theoretically increasing the team’s budget.
Does all of this outweigh the benefit of letting Tim rest his legs? I’m not sure, but I would be curious to hear what everybody else thinks about the subject.
Naturally, I would like to see the Sox win every game, but at this point, I am fine with them resting players and getting ready for the postseason. If you win Game 1 of the postseason in the playoffs, now the home field advantage swings to you. I don’t think it’s worth it to go pedal to the metal all the way through just for that 1 extra home game. The fact that the Sox are already able to set Rodon’s schedule for the rest of the year is a huge advantage to have.
Possibly useless factoid: the Sox haven’t won a playoff series as the lower seed in 115 years.
Which, ironically was the last (and only) time they won a playoff series at home.
I understand the cautious approach regarding injuries, but I think TLR has gone too far. As noted by TexAg, on more than a handful of occasions our lineups have screamed “beat us”, and the other team usually abided. I think there is some advantage to playoff home, maybe not a back breaker.
My real concern is the current administrative attitude regarding total wins and losses – they aren’t very important. I doubt the players feel the same way. On paper the healthy lineup should be very dangerous; will it be? Will we see some tuneups before the playoffs?
In short, I’m concerned about the ability, or lack thereof, to flip a switch and change from a currently treading water squad to max energy.
Exactly. I have no problem with TA resting his legs, given that there was a concern. But he does seems to be resting guys to an extreme.
It seems like they are content to win the division without any concern for seeding. They should have at least some. Home field is not called an advantage for no reason. I’m not suggesting they play guys who are hurt, only that as you said I think TLR has gone too far.
But even when guys aren’t resting, this team just seems flat and unmotivated a lot of the time since the allstar break. I think their weak division and huge lead hurts rather than helps them. It’s probably why the Twins lost 18 straight or whatever in the playoffs.
The White Sox haven’t exactly been good on the road this year either. For a division that is supposedly as bad as ours, we are .500 on the road and that’s with getting swept in Houston and New York and only winning 1 of 3 in Tampa.
Home field isn’t everything, but it isn’t nothing. In a close series, it might be close to the determining factor. Making sure everyone is healthy is an obvious priority, but hopefully they can achieve that and still play their best players more, trying to win as many games as possible relative to teams outside of their division for seeding.
The last three times the Sox had a division win probability above 90% they couldn’t do it in the allotted 162 games or at all. A 9.5 game lead will feel comfortable when there are 9 games left.
Even if the Sox go 16-21 the rest of the way (which is doubtful because of how easy their schedule is), the Indians would have to go 27-13 the rest of the way to catch them. For a team that is .500 thru 122 games to all of a sudden win 2/3 of their last 40 games is nearly impossible.
Really, what has Atlanta done the last few weeks but go from a team below .500 to leading the division. Every game counts; any MLB team can beat any other MLB team on any given day; do you think KC, Detroit, Boston, the A’s again, the Reds and even the Cubs are just going to say, sure, we’ll let you go 16-21 against us?
I am old enough to remember day baseball World Series games in warm early October weather. Night baseball on October 31 or November 1 in northern cities is kind of ridiculous. Here are my unpopular ideas: 1) Return the season to the traditional 154 games. 2) Start the season in late March with games in every dome or warm locale possible. 3) Use the time saved by shaving off 8 games to start the playoffs earlier. Conclude the World Series by October 20 at the latest. And finally, in games that go into extra innings have each team start with the bases loaded and only allow pitchers to throw with their non-dominant hand.
Good points. Logical, and would make a lot of things better. But will never happen due to greed.
It is only fair that players run the bases clockwise in extras
Cant wait for the beach episode where the crusty old lifeguard Tony prevents the teenagers from swimming in the lake past 3PM but thanks to some wacky hijinks from Timmy and Eloy along with some sage advice from the middle aged surfer Lance they thwart Tony and host the most bangin’ beach bash of the summer.
With 70 year old David Hasselhoff as Tony.
I was thinking about the value of shortening the season just yesterday. It really is a slog for like 80% of teams. It makes me wish for relegation in American sports. It would give the last place teams something to play for.
Barring that, doing something like staged eliminations. Something like only 24 teams play past game 100 and only 12 play past game 130. Then there is something to play for and financial incentive to not completely suck
I could envision MLB developing a split-season format or possibly deciding wildcards in the final months.
There does need to be a financial incentive for teams not to suck, but that incentive should be directed at front offices, not at the players. This isn’t fantasy sports. Last-place teams don’t check out after they are eliminated. Why? Because they are all playing for their jobs. For many players on last-place teams, a bad September could be the difference in a Major League job the following year—and for every player, regardless of whether their place on the roster is secure, their performance either directly does, or soon will, impact how much money they make. In other words, the length of the season, or a team’s place in the standings near the end, doesn’t really impact how hard teams try. Here, it’s tanking that’s the real problem.
The sport exists for the fans’ entertainment, not for the players’ long term job prospects. If a mad dash in the last weeks of July and August to avoid shutting down is more entertaining than what they’re doing now, do it IMO.
I didn’t say anything about financially taking away from the players. Go ahead an pay them for the games even if their team performance didn’t require them to play the full season. It’s not Cedric Mullins’ fault the Oriole blow.
That being said it is such a logistically nightmare that it could never happen. You couldn’t schedule games after the cut dates until they happened and thus couldn’t sell tickets. How do you balance the schedule? What do you do about rainouts? etc. etc.
The article title is referencing a song, correct? What song?
My google attempts keep leading me to The Wagon.
Unchained Melody – Righteous Bros. “that loving feeling”.
Thanks, that makes sense given the news.
I was thinking of some 90’s alt song. Oh well.
I aimed at alliteration above all else.
I suppose it’s kind of a cross between Righteous Brothers and REO Speedwagon.
We’ve been watching Ozark. The 3rd season has an appearance by REO Speedwagon. Saw it last night.
Tim out of the lineup again tonight. IL stint coming?
T-shirt or bumper sticker slogan, can see it now.
Hopefully not. But Hernandez should not be the leadoff guy in the meantime, not how he’s hitting recently. How about Robert leading off, Hernandez near bottom of the order.
That would change the pattern!!!!
As usual, you are a kinder, more gentle writer. I think filler is appropriate but I swear some games look and feel more like Spring Training.
And it comes from the top/down. If TLR puts out squad B, I can see the fillers trying hard to make the team, sorry, post-season roster, while the A team coasts. Perfect recipe for 9-0 game.
Every game counts and if you coast, one day you wake up in Cleveland before a five game series that will decide the division.
I love the 162 game slog. Stuff has a way of averaging out. At the end of the season you are as good as your 162-game record says you are – we all know what it means when someone says “they won 95 games last year.”
When the calendar hits June, too many fans want to press “simulate season.” Or fast forward to the playoffs. Or just assume that all the stats will get doubled. These games get played, they count, and if you watch them you learn more about the players and teams.