After 162 games over 180 days during the regular season, baseball slows down for the playoffs. Any given team can play a maximum 19 games in the postseason, which usually last 30 days (plus the days off following the regular season conclusion). That’s quite a change for players and fans, who are used to the every day nature of baseball. Couldn’t baseball do something to shorten the postseason schedule so that they’d get days off at least somewhat comparable to the regular season?
There are a few obstacles in the way of such a playoff layout. Travel days is an obvious one. It’s unfair to make a team, or both teams, travel from the West Coast after a game and play the next day. In fact, during the regular season a team cannot travel from the West Coast to the East Coast without a day off. So preserving some level of off-days when changing venues makes sense, because you never know where the travel will take you.
Another obstacle is the uncertainty of how long a series lasts. Three of four teams swept their opponents in the first round this year, and the other series went only four games. This meant many extra days off for these teams. First because of the unplayed games, but also because of the travel days between them — and in a 2-2-1 system, that’s two game days and a travel day for the sweeping teams, and one game day and a travel day for the four-game team.
Yet the biggest obstacle of all could be the television networks. They pay a lot of money to acquire broadcast rights for the playoffs, and they therefore want to maximize their advertising revenues. This necessarily means more days off. TBS and FOX benefit when they’re the only station with a game. This is why one LCS starts a day before the other, and also why there’s a random day off between Games 4 and 5. It puts each station in an exclusive position, meaning they’ll be able to grab a greater portion of the total audience attention.
On top of the want for extra days off, the networks also request to start the playoffs on a Wednesday. It helps them to get more games in during peak viewership hours. If the playoffs started on a Saturday, the lowest-rated night of the week, they would probably have fewer people watching, and therefore lower advertising revenue.
Commissioner Bud Selig recently addressed this issue, saying that he favors a shorter playoff schedule. In fact, citing an argument from Angels manager Mike Scioscia, Selig pretty firmly says that we can expect a tightened playoff layout.
“We’re going to change it,” Selig said. “I don’t disagree with Mike Scioscia. I think he was right, so we’re going to try and tighten that up.”
He goes on to cite some of the complications listed above, but concedes that some of the off-days — I’m assuming those requested by the networks — are unnecessary. That sounds like a definitive statement from Selig, though I’m not quite as optimistic that much will change next postseason.
I’d like to see some more flexibility in the scheduling, if possible. As we saw with the one-game playoff this season, sometimes there are issues of venue availability. The Twins and Tigers were supposed to face off the Monday after the season ended, but weren’t able to because the Vikings had a Monday night game scheduled for then. Baseball had to wait another day. There won’t be a football-baseball overlap for them this season, but there are still a few teams that play in dual-purpose arenas. And in those cases, flexible scheduling can be an issue.
Will Bud stand by his word on this one? I hope so. The long playoff layout afforded the Yankees an advantage this postseason, but I’d make the trade-off. Players go through a long, grueling regular season with just 18 off-days in six months. I’d like to see a more accurate emulation of that for the playoffs.
Addendum by Ben: Just to hit on a point, the lengthened playoff schedule, as Shysterball so aptly reminds us, was Selig’s doing in the first place. He’s simply trying to undo another bad decision he made when he kowtowed the interests of TV over the flow of the playoffs. Other than for the sake of TV, there’s no reason the ALCS can’t start two days after the last ALDS wraps up, and there’s no reason why the World Series can’t just start two days after the last LCS game is played. If Selig had the best interests of baseball in mind, he would fix this problem.