Michael/Male/26-30. Lives in United States/Pennsylvania/Wexford/Christopher Wren, speaks English. Spends 20% of daytime online. Uses a Fast (128k-512k) connection. And likes baseball /politics.
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United States, Pennsylvania, Wexford, Christopher Wren, English, Michael, Male, 26-30, baseball , politics.

Monday, February 26, 2007

A Rant on the Unbalanced Schedule 

Baseball loves its rivalries. One of the great pulls of the game has been its history, memories of seasons past, memories of glories past. Dodgers – Giants. Cardinals – Cubs. Yankees – Red Sox. In an effort to try and accentuate the old rivalries and strengthen the game, Major League Baseball elected to pursue an unbalanced schedule in 2001. Rather than playing every team in their league 13 or so times a year, baseball elected to skew the balance of team’s games against their divisional foes, playing 19 games against division rivals and six or so against the rest of the league.

Since the advent of the unbalanced schedule baseball has been in a rut, in my opinion. Oh sure, the bright flame of the Red Sox and Yankees in 2003 and 2004, good teams and bitter rivals angrily fighting for the pennant and carrying their rivalry into the playoffs, was good for the game. I was glued to the television in ’04 especially, transfixed by the epic struggle unfolding. However, outside of the Red Sox and Yankees playing each other what seems like every week, baseball is suffering.

Teams play game after game against division rivals. Teams from rival divisions rarely appear in town. Teams get to load up against weak foes. The Yankees were a good team in 2006, but they played nearly a quarter of their games against the Orioles and Devil Rays last year and went 25-12 in them. Can you really take the Cardinals triumph in the N.L. Central seriously, given that they did it playing nearly half of their games against the worst division in baseball? The Phillies had a better record and they accomplished that playing a quarter of their games against the Mets and Braves.

Here is what the Phillies schedule distribution looked like for 2006:

N.L. East (four teams): 75
N.L. Central (six teams): 37
N.L. West (five teams): 32
American League (fourteen teams): 18

The Phillies played 46% of their games against four teams, the Nationals, the Braves, the Mets and the Marlins. They played 43% of their games against the other eleven National League teams. How fair is baseball’s schedule when it forces the Phillies to square off with the Mets and Braves 25% of the time while the Cardinals get the Pirates and Reds? Doesn’t it give mediocre N.L. Central teams an unfair advantage in the race for the wildcard? Imagine going into your stretch run with the Cardinals and finding that you have to play the Mets and Braves while the Cardinals get the Reds and Pirates.

The Phillies also played 11% of their games against American League teams, a rarity since teams usually played 12 inter-league games instead of 18. Certainly this put the Phillies at a disadvantage as they had to play games against the Yankees and Red Sox.

The other thing is that it kills interest teams have in the post-season because most of the teams and players they see competing in October are foreign to them. They’ve briefly appeared during the season and then vanished. People in Philadelphia don’t care about what the Dodgers do in the post-season because they didn’t see the Dodgers play during the regular season. The unbalanced schedule encourages people to focus on the players staffing their rivals, on watching their rivals play, and it discourages people from caring about what happens outside of their division.

In short, the unbalanced schedule typifies the worst aspects of baseball. It promotes parochialism. It narrows the people’s focus. It gives certain teams unfair advantages. I know these are complaints that people have noted before, but I think it is high time for baseball to listen to the people and try and fix things they see as wrong. The unbalanced schedule is wrong. Baseball should fix it.

The concept of divisions has been around for a while now...in every sport not just baseball. Look at football do you hear the eagles complaining that they have to play their division 6 times? In recent years these games have been against weak teams and have been fairly easy wins. Power in a division is trendy. It shifts over periods of time. A few years ago it would have been safe to say that Cleveland, Chicago, and Minnesotta had 10+ easy wins in their schedule because they faced Detroit a bunch. Look at Atlanta, everyone was penciling those guys in for another division title last year....they finished a distant third 18 games out.
Let's not blame divisions for the success or failure of franchises. In the end playoffs determine the best team. You must beat the best of the league in 5 or 7 game series. There is no escaping the best teams. Yes St.Louis may have had a slightly easier schedule than others, but in the end they beat a team that the Phillies struggled mightily against, and one of the hottest teams in baseball in 5 games.
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