Struggling with the Pros and Cons of Neutral Site Postseason Series

photo: Globe Life Field (Texas Rangers)

Call me a baseball traditionalist, but I like it when managers manage. Yet, from multiple corners – players, managers and broadcasters alike – there has been criticism of the 2020-only playoff format of up to seven consecutive games without a day off.

Here is an example. Perhaps it was taken out of context, but if not, wow. The 2020 St. Louis Cardinals played 53 games in 44 days. But, the Los Angeles Dodgers – a group that won more regular season games than any other team, an organization hasn’t won a World Series in 32 years – can’t get up for playing on seven straight days? Really?

Broadcasters on both League Championship Series networks, FOX and TBS, have repeatedly pointed out how this format inconveniences the teams participating. Again, I not only have no sympathy. I do not agree.

There are several understandable reasons why MLB adopted this condensed format. One is that to generate additional revenue is a very down year, they jammed an extra round of playoffs into the same calendar period. The goal was to complete the World Series in October, which will be accomplished.

Another major factor is that due to COVID, the final three rounds are being played in neutral, warm-weather sites in Texas and California. That means no travel days are needed. This is in contrast with the one or two days off routine normally earmarked for travel when series are played in home team parks.

Further, when normal October games are played in colder climates, weather-driven postponements are far from unheard of. This both extends the series and also enables teams to deploy their best pitchers more frequently than normal. In fact, the Cardinals benefitted from rainouts in both the 2006 and 2011 World Series.

We have also seen in recent years other teams take advantage of multiple days off to rely heavily on two starting pitchers to prevail, most recently the 2019 Washington Nationals utilizing dual aces Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg to the “max”.

As this fan noted, some like seeing the biggest names more frequently in October.

I guess it gets down to whether your top priority is to market your stars or have a format that more accurately reflects how the regular season is played. Normally, teams play seven games straight on a regular basis and nobody makes a big deal about it.

A problem – as I see it

By following this rationale, I find I am leading myself toward backing the consecutive-games format going forward. In turn by doing that, I am also dictating the use of neutral sites, which I am not nearly as comfortable with.

Being realistic, you can’t have both consecutive games and travel in the same series. Take a Los Angeles-New York World Series, for example. Trying to play seven games straight (even if October NY weather allowed) would require overnight transcontinental travel, the logistics of which would be exhausting for the teams and potentially compromise the quality of play.

In our Wednesday podcast this very week, Dan McLaughlin tossed out the possibility of a neutral site World Series continuing beyond 2020. I suspect it was more driven by the potential of MLB turning it into a Super Bowl-like extravaganza – and of course driving a lot more revenue into their coffers as a result. But whatever the motivation, the traditionalist in me was immediately opposed as I would not want to take the World Series away from loyal team fans.

Sure, the wealthiest followers could travel to a neutral site, but baseball has always been and should continue to be for the everyman. Joe and Jane Fan are not going to be able to pull the kids out of school for a week in the middle of October to travel to sunny San Diego, while dropping probably five or 10 grand in the process.

Yes, the NFL makes a big deal over the Super Bowl, but do other sports, which feature a series of games, rather than just a one-game final, do it that way?

So, I am struggling with my position. What do you think? Stop by The Cardinal Nation’s free forum and join the discussion.

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