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OC Register: Hoornstra: Here’s how to fix 5-day layoff for MLB’s top-seeded playoff teams


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When Major League Baseball and the MLB Players’ Association compromised on an expanded 12-team playoff field, it came with a rather consequential side effect: five days off at the end of the regular season for the two best teams in each league.

That downtime didn’t stop the Houston Astros from beating the Minnesota Twins in the American League Division Series, but it did seem to neuter the Dodgers, Atlanta Braves and Baltimore Orioles in their respective series. They combined to go 1-9 in the division series round after each team won at least 100 games in the regular season.

In the aftermath of their losses, it was interesting to hear the principals from each team try to reconcile their regular-season dominance with their postseason faceplants.

“I mean, we thought we did everything possible during the delay, recreated things the best we could,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said shortly after his team was eliminated by the Philadelphia Phillies.

“We tried to simulate a lot of at-bats Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, because there’s no question that five days off affects hitters’ timing,” Dodgers president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman said at his annual end-of-season press conference on Tuesday. “Now if getting enough at-bats leading up to that keeps that timing in place, obviously we didn’t do a good enough job.”

The Dodgers opened one of their three intrasquad games to fans and reporters. Of the 11 pitchers who faced their teammates that day, all 11 saw action on a major league mound during the 2023 season. The quality of pitching the Dodgers’ hitters faced during their five-day layoff wasn’t an issue. Neither, perhaps, was the quantity of at-bats they took.

From the press box at least, the problem appeared to be one of intensity.

Half of the Dodgers’ players wore white jersey tops, the other half blue, but occasionally a blue player would bat for the white squad. Some innings lasted three outs, some four, others five. A smattering of fans in the lower deck of seats in left field helped fill the air with noise. By the end of the game, you could hardly blame fans for focusing more on two screens above the bleachers showing the Arizona Diamondbacks’ wild-card game against the Milwaukee Brewers.

Taking a baseball player out of the routine he performs 162 times a year is anathema to intensity. From the beginning of April until the end of September, there are only game days or non-game days. One brings a degree of intensity. The other does not. There’s simply no way around that.

“Our goal next year is to win the division and have those five days off again,” Friedman said. “It’s two years into this (postseason) format. We don’t concern ourselves too much with what’s optimal, what’s ideal. It doesn’t really matter. It is what it is. For us, it’s about how to operate the best we can within it.”

Here’s an idea for the two top-seeded teams in each league: Fill your five off-days with practice games. Keep the number of at-bats and quality of opposing pitchers high. Only next time, make sure it’s a game of consequence for one of the two teams on the field.

How?

As it turns out, Oct. 2-7 wasn’t a game day for nearly every professional baseball team on the planet. That includes the champions of each of the four independent “partner leagues” of MLB: the Atlantic League, the American Association, the Frontier League and the Pioneer League.

The Fargo-Moorhead RedHawks cut it close. On Oct. 1, they defeated los Caimanes Barranquilla, the top team in Colombia’s professional league, to close out the Baseball Champions League Americas tournament in Mexico. The next day, they flew home.

How practical would it have been for Fargo-Moorhead to divert its journey through, say, Atlanta, Los Angeles, Baltimore or Houston for a few days? Very, said Joshua Schaub, the commissioner of the American Association.

“We’re more than willing to get on a plane to play an MLB team,” he said.

An American Association team typically travels “29 or 30 people” on a road trip, Schaub said. He estimated it would cost no more than $15,000 to fly them all into any major airport. That’s pocket change for an MLB team.

The caliber of competition in the AA isn’t entirely major-league quality, but it’s not far off. Fargo’s leadoff hitter was Dillon Thomas, who as recently as last season was in the major leagues with the Angels. There are a few pitchers in the league who can touch 100 mph, Schaub said, “but usually they sit 92 or faster.” Control isn’t such an issue that hitters would be left ducking for cover.

Want the independent ballers to raise their intensity for an exhibition game? Invite scouts. Schaub said there were 52 in attendance at the Baseball Champions League Americas tournament.

“Guys play their (butts) off to get picked up by a scout in attendance,” he said.

The Atlantic League postseason also ends just in time for MLB’s wild-card round. The league selects players to an All-Star team too, but unlike the American Association they don’t stage a game – practically begging for an excuse to get the All-Stars on the field. This season, Atlantic League teams could have filled a pitching staff with 10 former major leaguers from their season-ending rosters.

“Having a member of the Atlantic League play an exhibition game or series against an MLB club preparing for the postseason would be a concept that we would be very willing to discuss,” Atlantic League president Rick White said. “There could be a number of options, whether a current club or a collection of top players, and the logistics would need to be worked out. But as a concept, we would be open to the idea. I can promise you that any collection of the Atlantic League’s top players would certainly be a worthy opponent for any club preparing for the postseason. Of course, any such discussion would be subject to the approval of Major League Baseball.”

To participate in a three-game exhibition series after the regular season, the current Collective Bargaining Agreement only requires that players get permission from their team and the commissioner. Staging an early-October series against a team full of indy ball opponents with something at stake, in theory, should not be a tough sell to players. It was the Players’ Association who first raised concerns about the effects of a five-day layoff during CBA negotiations before ultimately agreeing to an expanded 12-team postseason.

Four independent “partner leagues” and four postseason teams struggling with a five-day layoff seems like a perfect marriage. Of course, no marriage is perfect. The caliber of play in the Frontier and Pioneer leagues isn’t as high as the American Association or Atlantic League. The specifics would have to be ironed out.

Even if the exhibition games don’t perfectly simulate a game-day experience for the major league players, it should raise their level of intensity by a notch. Given the limitations of a 12-team playoff field, that should be the goal of every team facing the blessed curse of a five-day layoff.

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9 hours ago, Angel Oracle said:

And stop having set start dates for post-season series!!!!

What is the worst thing that happens if a  series starts no more than 2 days after the latest previous series involving the two winners ends?

What’s the worst thing that can happen?  Field not available because of a concert.  Hotels unavailable due to being sold out.  Fans not attending because they couldn’t plan to be there.  

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3 hours ago, Stradling said:

What’s the worst thing that can happen?  Field not available because of a concert.  Hotels unavailable due to being sold out.  Fans not attending because they couldn’t plan to be there.  

That didn’t stop MLB from doing it years  back.   If you lengthen the post-season, adding off days that aren’t needed doesn’t help to prevent cold weather games.

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16 minutes ago, Angel Oracle said:

That didn’t stop MLB from doing it years  back.   If you lengthen the post-season, adding off days that aren’t needed doesn’t help to prevent cold weather games.

I think they should get rid of the off days in the middle of the series, especially if the travel isn’t bad, but not between series. I do want them to make the playoffs as much like the season as possible, that way it truly is about 26 man roster and not just a couple of good pitchers. 

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34 minutes ago, Stradling said:

I think they should get rid of the off days in the middle of the series, especially if the travel isn’t bad, but not between series. I do want them to make the playoffs as much like the season as possible, that way it truly is about 26 man roster and not just a couple of good pitchers. 

Both Texas teams have domes so weather is never an issue. But the east coast is prone to rain, so what do you do when there is no buffer to reschedule a rain out. There isn't half a season to squeeze in a makeup game so it can't be like the regular season.

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4 minutes ago, Blarg said:

Both Texas teams have domes so weather is never an issue. But the east coast is prone to rain, so what do you do when there is no buffer to reschedule a rain out. There isn't half a season to squeeze in a makeup game so it can't be like the regular season.

good point.  But now if there is a rain out, it eliminates a day off.  It could be like that but days off between series.  My solve for all of it is starting the season a week early, playing one double header a month, which finished the regular season in mid September and the playoff by mid October.  You deal with rain outs early in the season, but as you stated you have all season to make those up.  Or you go back to a 154 game season.  

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Dodgers pitching was a mess after Kershaw could not get out of first inn. Having Lance Lynn start game 3 who led MLB in HR allowed. He gave up 5 HR in 1 inn (Moreno I count as 2 in that AB). You get to the dance and just can't dance. Nothing needs to be fixed in playoff system. Better luck next year Dodgers.

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14 hours ago, Angel Oracle said:

And stop having set start dates for post-season series!!!!

What is the worst thing that happens if a  series starts no more than 2 days after the latest previous series involving the two winners ends?

I understand the World Series having set dates, but the first round and second round series should be fluid.

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They just need to tighten the schedule though. 

All baseball concluded the 2023 season on Oct 1. That has been the case now for a number of years. 

So this year, the wild cards started on October 3 for the NL and AL. This is okay, but I think they should be playing the next day.

They did 3 game series, 10-3, 10-4, and 10-5 and started the ALDS on 10-7. Two days off? Do they really need a day off before and after these series? No.

Then the ALDS played October 7, 8, 10, 11. The NLDS played 7, 9, 11, and 12. Two days off in a 5 game series. I assume game 5 in the ALCS would've been the 13th and the NLDS would be 10-14. 

The ALCS started 10-15 and NLCS started 10-16. Why?

The World Series starts 10-27. Why so many extra days off? The 7th game of the 2002 World Series was 10-27. They had the 5 game series and a 7 game Championship, so there is an additional series. But that season ended the same weekend, (9-29) played the 5 game ALDS October 1-5. The ALCS 8-13 and the World Series 10-19 to 10-27.

I would structure it for 2024 as follows.

9-29 is the final day of the season. The three game wildcard series should start the next day, 9-30. Then, have a day off for travel. These series should play all three games at the same neutral location. (Well not all four series at the same place, but a neutral location eliminates travel concerns).

Maybe one AL and one NL in a neutral local, preferably a domed or good weather place. It allows it to be planned in advance. These don't have to be baseball cites, but to eliminate a potential home field advantage, if they were, they can be AL parks for NL teams and vice versa.

The ALDS and NLDS start the same day, all four series starting on the same day. Four days after the season ends, next year is 10-4. Then play them in 6 nights. Whether you do this as a 3-1-1 or 2-2-1, or 1-4, you only get one travel day before this series and one during. The championship series starts 10-11 for both leagues.

You play 7 games in 9 nights.  Start the World Series on 10-21, and finish it on 10-30.  

 

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Just now, Hubs said:

They just need to tighten the schedule though. 

All baseball concluded the 2023 season on Oct 1. That has been the case now for a number of years. 

So this year, the wild cards started on October 3 for the NL and AL. This is okay, but I think they should be playing the next day.

They did 3 game series, 10-3, 10-4, and 10-5 and started the ALDS on 10-7. Two days off? Do they really need a day off before and after these series? No.

Then the ALDS played October 7, 8, 10, 11. The NLDS played 7, 9, 11, and 12. Two days off in a 5 game series. I assume game 5 in the ALCS would've been the 13th and the NLDS would be 10-14. 

The ALCS started 10-15 and NLCS started 10-16. Why?

The World Series starts 10-27. Why so many extra days off? The 7th game of the 2002 World Series was 10-27. They had the 5 game series and a 7 game Championship, so there is an additional series. But that season ended the same weekend, (9-29) played the 5 game ALDS October 1-5. The ALCS 8-13 and the World Series 10-19 to 10-27.

I would structure it for 2024 as follows.

9-29 is the final day of the season. The three game wildcard series should start the next day, 9-30. Then, have a day off for travel. These series should play all three games at the same neutral location. (Well not all four series at the same place, but a neutral location eliminates travel concerns).

Maybe one AL and one NL in a neutral local, preferably a domed or good weather place. It allows it to be planned in advance. These don't have to be baseball cites, but to eliminate a potential home field advantage, if they were, they can be AL parks for NL teams and vice versa.

The ALDS and NLDS start the same day, all four series starting on the same day. Four days after the season ends, next year is 10-4. Then play them in 6 nights. Whether you do this as a 3-1-1 or 2-2-1, or 1-4, you only get one travel day before this series and one during. The championship series starts 10-11 for both leagues.

You play 7 games in 9 nights.  Start the World Series on 10-21, and finish it on 10-30.  

 

For broadcast, allow streaming / cable networks to bid on the Wild Card and Division games but the ALCS and NLCS need to be on broadcast network, Fox and one other. No more TBS for ALCS. 

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On 10/19/2023 at 10:14 AM, Stradling said:

I think they should get rid of the off days in the middle of the series, especially if the travel isn’t bad, but not between series. I do want them to make the playoffs as much like the season as possible, that way it truly is about 26 man roster and not just a couple of good pitchers. 

I was thinking the same thing. Do you really need a day off to travel between Arlington and Houston? Philadelphia and Atlanta? Phoenix and Los Angeles? Then there were days off in the same city to space things out for television.

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On 10/19/2023 at 6:27 AM, Stradling said:

What’s the worst thing that can happen?  Field not available because of a concert.  Hotels unavailable due to being sold out.  Fans not attending because they couldn’t plan to be there.  

I agree that the fixed dates solves the issue of the fields being available.   However, fans really don't know where the games will be played until their team is qualified for next round.  

If you are going on the road to see your team you are probably booking flights and rooms at the last minute whether it is a fixed date or floating date.

I think the fixed dates make the most sense over all for the business of baseball.

Edited by Slegnaac
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14 hours ago, Jeff Fletcher said:

So what happens if they keep moving up the earlier series but then the WS can’t move up?

If they cut down on days off in the series then it’s fine to have a few days off in between series.

Assuming they start the wildcard series the first week of October…. They have 28-30 days to get a maximum of 22 games in. It’s doable without the days off in series.

Neutral sites help for the wildcard games and travel. Fixed playoff brackets as well. Give the #1 seed the choice of who they play. 
 

Then you have 3 games in 3 days then a Day Off. 5 games in 6 Days. Day off. 7 games in 9 a day off then 7 games in 9 for the World Series and that’s 30 Days.

 

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