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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.
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)