Monday, April 15, 2024

How the lockout, rain and the new Wild Card Series messed with the MLB playoff schedule

The 2022 Major League Baseball playoff schedule doesn’t really resemble what it has the past several years. If you already knew this and know why, you can leave now. We have tons of other MLB content anyway. If you are curious what is going on, well, I’m here to save the day. 

It was always going to be a bit different. After all, once the owners finally lifted their “defensive” lockout with a new Collective Bargaining Agreement in place, the season was already delayed. It was just a few series, but everyone wanted 162 games, so the early-season series that were postponed were dispersed via doubleheaders and one series was tacked on at the end of the regular season. 

That already set things behind by three days. 

In a normal season, the final day would’ve been Sunday, Oct. 2. Then, the wild-card games would’ve been played on the following Tuesday and Wednesday with two division series games played Thursday and Friday as our one guaranteed four-game day. Each division series would have the format of two games in one venue, one day off for travel, two games in the other venue, one day off for travel, and then game five at the first venue. 

Further complicating matters is the new playoff format. Now there are three wild card teams per league, requiring one of the division winners from each league to take part in the wild-card round. And that round is now a series instead of one game. With this wrinkle, MLB didn’t want the four teams earning byes to wait around any longer than they had to, which means it didn’t stagger the wild-card games. 

In other words, when in the past we’ve seen, say, the AL Wild Card Game on a Tuesday and NL on a Wednesday, this time around all four Wild Card Series kicked off on Friday, Oct. 7. In sticking with the theme of wanting to get to the division series as soon as possible, there were no off days in any of the series and all games were played at the home park of the higher-seeded team. 

That means all four division series were lined up to start this past Tuesday. Here’s where another issue arose. 

If MLB stuck with the same old format in the division series, it would look like this: 

  • Tuesday: Four games
  • Wednesday: Four games
  • Thursday: Zero games
  • Friday: Four games
  • Saturday: 0-4 games, depending on results
  • Sunday: Zero games
  • Monday: 0-4 games

MLB decided to stagger things a bit more for maximum eyeballs on any given day, . That means both AL series played on Tuesday then took an immediate day off after just Game 1. 

It is not, however, exactly as one would expect moving forward. Not yet! 

MLB skipped the normal off day between Games 4 and 5 in all four of these series. With the Guardians-Yankees postponement on Thursday, they’ve moved Game 2 to Friday, which was supposed to be an off day, with Game 3 proceeding as planned on Saturday, Game 4 on Sunday and Game 5 on Monday. 

This means the only remaining off day for any teams this entire round is Friday for the Mariners and Astros. Otherwise, weather-permitting, everyone plays every day until the round is complete. 

There will be an adjustment for teams and for fans here. In the past, we’ve seen teams use the same starting pitcher in Game 1 and Game 4 (on short rest), which then clears the way for the Game 2 starter to take the ball on normal rest in Game 5. In this format, they’ll need to either pitch two starters on short rest or use a fourth starter. The lack of recovery time for high-leverage relievers will also be a storyline. 

Things aren’t back to normal for the LCS round, either. Each series has a travel/off day after Game 2, but then Games 3-7 are scheduled on consecutive days. The same pitching circumstances apply. 

For creatures of habit, the World Series does have the traditional format of: 

  • Two games
  • Travel
  • Three games
  • Travel
  • Two games

Even so, a possible Game 7 would be on Nov. 5, the latest World Series clincher we’ve ever seen (the 2001 and 2009 playoffs both saw a final game on Nov. 4).

Bottom line: The lockout may have shifted the playoffs farther into November but TV deals and an expanded field have drawn out the postseason even more.

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