MLB Postseason Needs a Makeover

With the World Series finally over, we can reflect on what was and what wasn’t. These playoffs were a huge success for Major League Baseball, with huge ratings and major-market teams going far. But there were plenty of problems that arose over the past month plus. Whether it was overextended series play, preset schedules, poor umpiring, or the need of instant replay, there are many problems needing to be addressed soon.

If one takes a look at the regular and postseason schedules, one would find a glaring difference. Each team plays 162 regular season games with only 20 off-days over the five months of play. If a team played in the maximum of 19 postseason games, they would play them over 30 days! That is more then half as many off-days as they have in the regular season. Is there really a need to change the sport just for the playoffs? The change of pace allows teams like the Yankees to skip over their fourth and fifth starters so the can pitch their best starters more often, and pitch their closer for two innings. The World Champion should have the best of everything, not just three great starters and a great closer. The Phillies can fly to New York and be ready to play that day, they don’t need an extra day to recoup and rest. If teams can play three weeks with one or no off days, they can certainly play a postseason series with less than four off-days. Baseball in meant to be played every day, not every other. We don’t need to change the game to determine the champion.

On the subject of spread out series, another big issue for MLB is the set schedules. Before the first game of the regular season, the schedule for the rest of the season is set. So even though three out of the four Division Series were sweeps and the last was done in four games. From October 12th to the 15th, between the Division and Championship series, there were only two total games. Over the ALCS and NLCS, there were only two games on the same day only twice, and there were no games on two days. The Phillies had to wait an entire week to play the World Series while the Yankees got to miss three. Couldn’t we have started the Fall Classic the day after the ALCS was finished, or at least the day after that? The Phillies long layoff likely caused the bat of Ryan Howard, which was as hot as possible during the NLCS, to cool off, as he set a postseason record for most strikeouts. In 2006, the Tigers had 6 days off before the World Series, and they lost in five games. In 2007, the Rockies had 8 days off before the World Series, and they were swept. See the pattern?

If a team can’t win a postseason series until the seventh game, they shouldn’t be rewarded with three days off, they should have to play two days later. If they can’t pitch their ace until Game 2 or 3, that’s their fault for not winning the previous series quicker. By waiting out until the scheduled times, we are really hurting the teams who win quickly, doing what they are supposed to do. Some may argue that we will be messing with the loyal fans who bought tickets to specific games and may not be able to make other games. My response is…too bad. The alternative is watching in the comfort of your air conditioned/heated house with nice sofas and no $7 beers and hot dogs. MLB can refund anyone who can’t make the newly scheduled games, and there will be plenty of fans waiting and praying for tickets to playoff baseball.

One of the major subjects of discussion during the playoffs was the poor calls of the umpires. There were five major missed calls through the three rounds of the playoffs that were completely obvious, but no one could change without instant replay. The first of those errors came in Game 2 of the ALDS between the Yankees and Twins when Joe Mauer came up to bat in the top of the 11th inning. Mauer hit a ball down the left field line that bounced about a foot into fair territory before bouncing into the stands. Inexplicably, umpire Phil Cuzzi, who was just a few feet from where the ball landed, called the ball foul. Now, Mauer did eventually hit a single up the middle, but he didn’t score on either of the two singles hit later in the inning, which he would have been able to do had he been on second. Instead of Mark Teixeira hitting a walk-off homer later that inning, the game would have been tied, giving the Twins another chance.

How can Cano AND Posada be safe?

How is Cano safe here? We wouldn't have to worry with instant replay.

The next two major missed calls occurred in Game 4 of the ALCS between the Angels and Yankees. Nick Swisher was on second base when Scott Kazmir picked him off by more than a foot, yet was called safe. Later in the inning when Swisher advanced to third, he tagged up on Johnny Damon’s sacrifice fly. The Angels then appealed that Swisher had left the bag early, and umpire Tim McClelland called him out. In the very next inning, the Yankees had Jorge Posada on third and Robinson Cano on second. Nick Swisher hit a come-backer to Darren Oliver, who threw home catching Posada in a run down. Posada got back to third, but Cano was already there, but neither were on the base. Angels’ catcher Mike Napoli tagged out both runners, who were still off the base, but only Posada was called out. It was so blatantly obvious that both Posada and Cano were safe, but no other umpire stepped up, and they couldn’t use instant replay.  Ultimately, it didn’t make a difference because Swisher was originally out a second and Cano didn’t score, but that allowed the Yankees to get to the top of their order the next inning. Also, how can we let these obvious calls slip through our fingers?

The last pair of blown calls were in the World Series, the biggest stage in the game. In Game 2, there were two different blown double play calls. In the seventh inning, Johnny Damon hit a very low line drive that Ryan Howard caught off a short hop. From where umpire Brian Gorman was standing, he couldn’t see that Howard didn’t catch the ball and called Damon out. Howard proceeded to throw over to second base where Jimmy Rollins tagged out Jorge Posada, who would have been safe on the play. Through instant replay, one can clearly tell that Howard did not catch the ball and instead of the inning being over, the Yankees would have had runners on first and second with one out. The next inning, Chase Utley came up with runners on first and second and grounded into an inning ending double play, but replays showed that Utley was safe by a half step. If he was called safe, Ryan Howard would have had a chance to tie the game or take the lead with runners on the corners. Although he struck out in all four of his at-bats, you still never want to give Ryan Howard a chance to turn a game around.

All of the calls are inexcusable if we have the technology to get these calls correct. The NHL had it right two years when Sean Avery stood in front of the opposing goalie and waved his stick in the goalie’s face. The next day, they outlawed his actions, creating the “Sean Avery Rule.” They didn’t wait a week to see if it would continue, or say that they would set it up next season, or test it during the preseason. They immediately put the new rule in place. That is what baseball needs to do.

Instant replay should be allowed into the game of baseball for foul ball call, home run calls, and base path calls, but not balls and strikes. Balls and strikes are more based on the umpire’s personal preference and it would be a waste of time to challenge a few strike zone calls every inning. People who oppose instant replay say that it will slow down the game. If so, why do we still allow pitchers to take 30 seconds to throw home? Each game, both managers should receive a red flag, similar to the NFL, and may use it on challenges. If they get a call right, they get to keep the flag. But if they challenge a steal in the first inning and they are wrong, the umpires keep the flag. This way, managers will be selective to how many and which plays they challenge, and the pace of the game won’t be slowed too much.

The instant replay rule should be put in place for the regular season next year, and the post-season revisions should be seriously considered. Next post-season is a long ways away, but just ask yourself if we really need to change the entire complection of the sport to determine the champion.

Categories: MLB | 3 Comments

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3 thoughts on “MLB Postseason Needs a Makeover

  1. Uncle Dan

    Good column. Your criticisms are all on point. However MLB has millions-o’-dollar TV reasons to keep the post-season calendar set, so don’t hold your breath on getting the ALCS. NLCS or World Series started 2 days exactly after the completion of the previous round.

    From what I heard on MLB channel on satellite radio, an ESPN reporter polled 14 mlb gm’s anonymously via computer. Twelve expressed strong interest in looking at ways to expand replay/umpire review. (I forget what he said about the other 2) The clubs want it but MLB in general is notoriously resistant to change. I expect all talk and no action after the winter meetings.

  2. Louisa Weinrib

    Ben, well done. Another reason for not having so many off-days during the post-season play is that the weather is milder (think:snow) than during the heat of summer, and therefore less draining on the players. The schedule, however, is driven by media revenues and not by what is good for the game or the athletes.

  3. Redlegs fan

    Amen to instant replay being expanded. Getting it right is better than maintaining fiction that the umpire is alway correct. A limited number of challenges will prevent abuse.

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