*Note: I didn’t want to do the research for the NL, but the same general idea applies.
While MLB’s changes to the playoff schedule (schedule, not format) may seem minor, they could potentially have some serious implications. I started reading about it on some Red Sox message boards and decided to do a sort of summary explanation type write-up. Basically there are more off days between games, which will affect the amount of rest pitching staffs get. The schedule for the AL looks like this:
ALDS 1 (generally series with WC): 10/4, 10/5, 10/7, 10/8, 10/10
ALDS 2: 10/3, 10/5, 10/7, 10/8, 10/10
ALCS: 10/12, 10/13, 10/15, 10/16, 10/18, 10/20, 10/21
The first important thing to realize is that teams will not gain a significant advantage by clinching a playoff spot early and aligning their rotation. A team could easily use their ace to clinch their spot on the last day of the season and then have him pitch in Games 2 and 5 of the Division Series.
Secondly a team could easily make it to the World Series without using their fourth starter at all, or only once in the case of the first AL Division Series. Here’s an example of the second ALDS.
10/3 - #1 starter
10/5 - #2
10/7 - #3
10/8 - #1 (on 4 days rest)
10/10 - #2 (on 4 days rest)
10/12 - #3 (on 4 days rest)
10/13 - #1 (on 4 days rest)
10/15 - #2 (on 4 days rest)
10/16 - #3 (on 4 days rest)
10/18 - #1 (on 4 days rest)
10/20 - #2 (on 4 days rest)
10/21 - #3 (on 4 days rest)
Why would Major League Baseball make changes that make it even less likely that the best team during the regular season wins the World Series? The answer is easy. Television. The ratings are bound to be higher if the games feature more matchups of superstar pitchers.
So who does this help and who does it hurt? Obviously it helps the teams who have a shallow rotation and even a shallow bullpen. If a team has two dominant front end starters and two dominant relievers, its weakness probably would not be exposed until the WS or even not at all. (The exception to this would an injury or marathon games.) Who does it hurt? Well, maybe hurt isn’t the right word, but teams who success throughout the regular season has been predicated on the depth of its pitching staff, both bullpen and rotation will lose that advantage. As those of you who know me may have guessed, the Red Sox are the first team that comes to my mind. Let’s say they play Cleveland in the first round. (I know none of this is guaranteed, so no, I’m not worried about jinxing anything, I’m just going with the most likely outcome.) While a matchup of Beckett-Matsuzaka-Schilling vs. Sabathia-Carmona-Westbrook is not bad, it wouldn’t be as advantageous if there was one Wakefield-Byrd game instead. I would argue that it is disadvantageous to the Angels in the same way. While a 1-2-3 combination of Escobar-Lackey-Weaver is certainly scary, matching Santana against another team’s number 4 would probably give them more of an edge.
I think the new schedule, to a certain extent helps all the other teams, but especially Seattle and Detroit. The back end of Seattle’s rotation has been brutal. Only King Felix and Jarrod Washburn have an ERA+ over 100. If they make the playoffs they must be overjoyed at the fact that they can banish Jeff Weaver (ERA+ 77) to the bullpen. Detroit has had some serious injury problems, so their rotation after Verlander and Bonderman remains a question mark. We’ll end with a quick look at each potential playoff team’s five man rotation, with the pitchers with ERA+ over 100 highlighted. (Definition of ERA+)Seattle .
4. Weaver, Jeff
3. Weaver, Jered
In conclusion, I guess I really just wanted to show the implications more so than give opinions on the change but oh well, what the heck. I don’t really like how the schedule has evolved, and it has nothing do with the fact that the Red Sox have the best team on paper right now. I think it’s a shame that someone like Tim Wakefield who could easily end up with 20 wins this season could be relegated to the bullpen. I also think it’s a shame that it’s becoming less and less likely that we’ll see epic battles that come down to the last man in the bullpen and whether or not he is up to the challenge. I think that’s where the real postseason heroes are made and end up being the games people remember the most. But hey, in the words of Jay-Z, just my thoughts man.