Commentary

Extra off days are not good for baseball

Originally Published: October 17, 2007
By Jim Caple | ESPN.com

There is only one October … but there are nine potential days with no postseason games whatsoever.

Thanks to the new playoff format, baseball gave the American League teams everyone's dream holiday: a full day off in Cleveland in October. Well, you can make a lot of easy jokes about an extra day in Cleveland but the city has already heard them all, many times. Besides, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is open until 9 p.m. on Wednesdays (though the city's renowned art museum is closed for renovation).

The real issue, anyway, is not Cleveland or any other city, but baseball's decision to change the postseason schedule. The intent is worthy -- start the World Series in the middle of the week to increase ratings (which, after all, means more viewers). But the method is wrong. Rather than pushing up the playoffs by ending the regular season a few days earlier (which could be done by starting it a couple days earlier in warm-weather cities), baseball chose to extend the postseason by adding several off-days. That includes a layover between Games 4 and 5 of the ALCS even though the teams aren't traveling.

Under the best scenario, with each series going the distance, this would have worked all right, and perhaps even provided an extra day or two to rest tired rotations. But the more realistic scenario was that teams would have as many days off as days they play. And in the worst case scenario -- which is just about what has happened -- teams spend most of their days playing Spectra-Vision in their hotel rooms instead of playing baseball in their ballparks.

"It's good for the starters or the relievers who are used to a lot of work but the guys who aren't used to having five or six days off between outings as a middle reliever it can be tough to keep on your game," Cleveland reliever Tom Mastny said. "It certainly doesn't help to have the extra days off. One or two here and there doesn't matter but Colorado is going to be waiting eight or nine days to play. That's definitely not going to work in their favor. They'll definitely be rested but they'll also be a little rusty."

The format will be salvaged if the ALCS goes to a sixth or seventh game, but if not, baseball will go five days without any game whatsoever. There already have been four such days this month. That's not good for the fans or the players.

"I don't particularly like them," Cleveland third baseman Casey Blake said. "At this point in the year, some rest is nice but you want to keep playing and keep that rhythm going."

On the plus side, Colorado's current eight-day layoff guarantees the Rockies will lose only one game in 38 days. And it also means we'll get to see how their starters fare on 12 days' rest. If the World Series ends in a sweep, the Rockies will play 11 games in 27 days. To put that in perspective, the NHL's Colorado Avalanche will play the same number of games in that stretch. Even if the World Series goes seven games, the Rockies will play 14 games and have 17 days off.

The Rockies not only may set the record for most simulated games, their players could become the first in baseball history to play winter ball before the World Series.

The extra off days not only strain the attention of the casual fan (the very fan baseball wants to attract), they disrupt the rhythm of the players, batters and pitchers alike. There is a reason Detroit played so poorly in last year's World Series, and it quite possibly was due partially to its six-day layoff between the ALCS and World Series.

"The only way to stay sharp is to face live pitching. And as a pitcher, to face batters," Mastny said. "You can't simulate the adrenaline rush you get when you're on the mound in front of 50,000 fans and as a hitter, you can take all the cuts you want in the cage, but it doesn't simulate live action."

By the way, Wednesday was a warm, sunny day in Cleveland. And the forecast calls for rain Thursday.

Jim Caple is a senior writer for ESPN.com.

Jim Caple | email

Senior Writer, ESPN.com

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