King Kaufman's Sports Daily

Baseball playoffs: Sweeps week. Off days abound thanks to first-round routs. MLB needs a flexible schedule. Plus: "Frank TV," more.


King Kaufman
October 8, 2007 3:00PM (UTC)

Thanks to the New York Yankees beating the Cleveland Indians in Game 3 Sunday, there will be at least one more baseball game played before the home run that Manny Ramirez hit Friday comes back to earth.

The other three series are all in the books as sweeps, the Colorado Rockies over the Philadelphia Phillies and the Arizona Diamondbacks over the Chicago Cubs in the National League, the Boston Red Sox over the Los Angeles Angels in the American. Ramirez won Game 2 in Boston with a home run that may have left orbit, and he hit another one in the clinching Game 3 Sunday that would have been notable if not for Friday's causing an international incident by entering Chinese airspace.

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Still, Ramirez's blasts notwithstanding, the story of this postseason so far is the Rockies, who have won 17 of their last 18 games. The pundits are debating whether the five-day stretch between the Rockies' clinching win Saturday and the first game of the NLCS Thursday will cool them off, but what we should be debating is why we need five days off in a row. Why isn't the Rockies-Diamondbacks series starting Monday?

If the Indians had beaten the Yankees Sunday, there would have been a three-day stretch with no baseball, the equivalent of an All-Star break, right smack in the middle of the playoffs. That's not right.

Baseball is predicated on playing every day, or close to it. For a six-month season, it's the everydayness of baseball that governs it. Teams have to find starting pitchers for six games a week, keep bullpens fresh, get through the grind of it all. Then, suddenly, when it's time to decide the championship, off days sprout like mushrooms. Teams are playing a fundamentally different game in October.

The main issue isn't momentum or rhythm or hot teams staying hot. It's pitching. Adding off days changes the very nature of baseball, because it reduces the number of starting pitchers a team needs to get through a series. If the Rockies and Diamondbacks had wanted to, they could have had the same starting pitcher work consecutive games, the last game of the division series and the first game of the NLCS.

For all the moralizing about how steroids are endangering the "integrity of the game," here's something that's playing kickball with that integrity. One starting pitcher in consecutive games, in this day and age? That's not big-league baseball, it's a video game.

And that's not to mention the increasingly long fallow stretches fans have been asked to sit through as the playoffs have expanded. Baseball and the TV networks wanted the World Series to start and end on weekdays this year, so more days off have been added to back everything up from a Saturday to a Wednesday start.

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That means that second All-Star break we almost had this week could end up looking short. If both League Championship Series are sweeps, they'll end on Oct. 16. The World Series doesn't start until Oct. 24. There would be seven full days without baseball. This while the NFL is at midseason, the college football season is getting down to the deciding weeks and the NBA is about to start.

It's not just the hitters and pitchers who'd lose momentum, it's the playoffs themselves. Are we supposed to keep our interest up through a break seven times longer than normal? That would be like the NFL taking two months off between the Conference Championship Games and the Super Bowl.

Even if the NLCS goes seven games, there will still be an All-Star break-size, three-day stretch before the World Series unless the ALCS also goes seven. Both League Championship Series going seven games has happened twice in the 21 years since the LCS expanded from five to seven games.

And by the way: The extra off days mean that Game 7 of the World Series is scheduled for Nov. 1, a first, except when 9/11 pushed the whole season back a week in 2001. I think that's what most baseball fans have been clamoring for, especially in places like Boston, New York and Cleveland: If only the World Series could stretch into November, they've been saying.

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Baseball needs to be more flexible with the schedule. When both teams in a series are ready to go, the series should start after a day off for travel. The rhythm and nature of the game would be preserved, and the World Series would have improved odds of ending before the first snow. I'm sure there are serious logistical issues this brings up, having to do with hotel reservations and such. But the NBA and NHL manage to handle them.

Of course, with a flexible schedule, MLB and the networks wouldn't be able to hand-pick the exact nights each World Series game is played, which is obviously important to them. So it'd cost some money. That means it'll never happen, but I'm left wondering, as usual, what's more important, the last few million dollars' worth of profits or the very integrity of the game I've been hearing so much about in the steroids era?

Not wondering, actually. Asking rhetorically.

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Can't-miss TV: Impressions, sketch comedy [PERMALINK]

Turner Sports is paying Major League Baseball a reported $70 million a year for the rights to broadcast the divisional round, one of the League Championship Series and, starting next year, a slate of Sunday regular-season games through 2013. We've heard for years that TV networks hope to break even or show a small profit at best on the expensive major sports properties, but that they have tremendous value as promotional vehicles for the rest of the schedule.

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TVWeek reported last week that Turner Sports president David Levy "said he looks at the baseball playoffs as a showcase, both for the production quality of Turner Sports and for TBS's regular programming."

So it would appear that TBS has dropped $70 million this year to promote "Frank TV," a sketch comedy show starring mildly amusing impressionist Frank Caliendo. Does TBS even have any other shows? None are apparent from watching the playoffs.

Every time the baseball broadcasts go to or return from a commercial, there's a promo for "Frank TV" in which Caliendo does a very accurate but not very funny impersonation of John Madden, President Bush, Al Pacino, Jack Nicholson, etc.

Note to all impressionists: It's not enough just to get the voice down.

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The game announcers read promos that begin something like, "Have you ever wondered who that guy is doing the dead-on John Madden on 'NFL Live'?" To which a nation answers as one: "No."

I've seen no clips from "Frank TV." For all I know it's going to be brilliant. But my first prediction of the 2008 baseball season is that "Frank TV" won't outlive it.

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Test that radar gun [PERMALINK]

Marion Jones? The biggest steroid case of the week has to be the TBS radar gun at Wrigley Field. Pitchers were flipping changes up there and clocking 94 mph.

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Maybe look in topless bars [PERMALINK]

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The wonderfully deadpan and to-the-point stylings of Steve Stone, who was talking to partner Ted Robinson during Game 2 of the Angels-Red Sox series about Sox reliever Hideki Okajima's odd pitching motion. Okajima drops his head as he releases the ball, so he's looking down at the ground, rather than toward home plate, as the pitch is sent on its way.

Considering a freeze frame of Okajima, Robinson said, "I can't remember, Stoney, seeing a pitcher that extreme, can you?"

Stone: "Well, not one that still has a head."

I think you had to be there, but it's been like three days and I'm still laughing at that. And I'm scouring Retrosheet for headless pitchers Stone might have seen.

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A tribute to Lajoie? [PERMALINK]

TBS announcers Don Orsillo and Joe Simpson were discussing Matt Holliday vs. Jimmy Rollins for the National League MVP as Holliday batted in the third inning of Game 3. Simpson talked about Rollins' various baseball skills, then added, "And his leadership as well. That's not to say that Holliday's not a leader, but Jimmy is certainly the guy for the Phillies."

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After Holliday fouled off a pitch, Orsillo said, "We've talked about it, the confidence of Jimmy Rollins is contagious with this club, and certainly at the end of spring training, when he said that they would be the National League East winners --"

The broadcast had cut to a shot of Rollins walking toward the outfield at his shortstop position, viewed from behind and to the left. Just as Orsillo said, "National League East winners," Rollins turned and faced the camera, and he had his right hand tucked into the front of his shirt in the classic Napoleon pose.

Now that's leadership!

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Beatpaths now baffling about two sports [PERMALINK]

Beatpaths, a Web site that's been posting utterly baffling -- to this column -- but visually pleasing charts about the NFL for a few years now, has turned to baseball, according to an e-mail from proprietor Curt Siffert.

"Thought you might be interested in checking out the graph I just did," he writes. "I don't usually do baseball but it seemed like a good time to check it out."

Here's a reminder that a beatpath is, according to the site: "If a team beats another team, who beats a third team, and it doesn't become a loop, you have a beatpath." A loop is "A beats B beats C beats A."

As the chart makes clear, the Phillies, Twins and Mariners all have lots of arrows pointing to them, and the Brewers are way over there on the left. You can't get this kind of analysis just anywhere, which is why I like Beatpaths so much. One of my goals in life, once I get my kids raised and I read "Ulysses" all the way through, is to figure out what Beatpaths is all about.

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  • King Kaufman

    King Kaufman is a senior writer for Salon. You can e-mail him at king at salon dot com. Facebook / Twitter / Tumblr

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