Make the LCS best-of-5 too

The short format of the divisional round makes it flukey, but that's a good thing. And off days are not.


King Kaufman
October 8, 2008 3:00PM (UTC)

Tuesday. Wednesday. All day Thursday.

There's too much dead time in the baseball postseason. This column complains about it every year but at least you know we're sincere around here. The unfortunate confluence of early exits in the divisional round means two full days and most of a third are going by without baseball.

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This is going to happen again after the League Championship Series. Even if the ALCS, which is on a schedule one day behind the NLCS, goes seven games and ends on a Sunday night, there will again be two full days and most of a third before the World Series begins the following Wednesday evening. If both League Championship Series are sweeps -- it hasn't happened since 1975, when the LCS was best-of-five, but it could happen -- there would be seven full days with no baseball.

Worse yet, if one of the series is a sweep and the other goes seven games, one team will have a wacky amount of off time compared to the other. That's happened two years in a row. The Colorado Rockies had eight days off after their NLCS sweep last year, and got swept by the Boston Red Sox in the World Series. In 2006 the Detroit Tigers had six days off after a sweep in the ALCS, and they lost the World Series to the St. Louis Cardinals in five games.

Not that the cause and effect is clear. The 1995 Atlanta Braves had a long layoff after the NLCS and won the World Series.

Everydayness is part of baseball's nature, and it's one of the most appealing things about the game. During the season there's no chance to rest, no game-planning downtime, no sitting around and licking your wounds after a loss. "Go get 'em tomorrow" is a signature cliché.

Then, in the most meaningful part of the season, this fundamental element of the game is thrown out the window. It's not right. A big part of the problem is the generous off days built into the postseason schedule, which are there for the convenience and benefit of the players, teams, TV networks and other media.

The solution to that problem is to say to hell with all of those people. Baseball belongs to the fans, and I think I speak for the fans when I say the fans of baseball would like to see some baseball.

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But it's also a problem, as we've seen in recent years, that a seven-game series could end as early as Game 4. The solution to that problem is to make the LCS best-of-five again. Make 'em both short. It's the latest thing in hopeless causes.

What we'd lose in potential baseball games, a maximum of four, we'd make up for in ratcheted-up tension -- one of the main criticisms of the best-of-five format is that losing Game 1 is too costly, which sounds to me like Game 1 has a lot riding on it, which is exciting -- and fewer off days.

Angry Chicago Cubs fans have been grumbling that the best-of-five first round of the playoffs is too short. They would say that, their lads having been swept three straight by the Los Angeles Dodgers, but it's not a complaint native to Cubs fans, or to fans of teams that just got swept.

There's a legitimate argument against the best-of-five format, and here it is, courtesy a poster handled tbrandel in this column's letters threads:

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"Baseball has a 162-game season. Thus, a five-game series represents 3 percent of the season. In football, the one-game playoff represents 6 percent of the season. In basketball, the opening rounds are seven games, representing 8 percent of the season. In other words, a five-game series in baseball is particularly flukey, especially compared to other sports."

Beautifully argued, but it's not as if a seven-game series is significantly less flukey. It represents all of 4 percent of the season.

But why shouldn't the playoffs be flukey? That's what they're there for. We've just had a 162-game regular season to determine, as definitively as possible given the boundaries of time and North American weather patterns, the best baseball teams in the land. The playoffs are simply a tournament involving those teams. Their purpose is to be exciting and crown a champion, not to determine the best team.

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So here's what we do: We make both the divisional series and the LCS best-of-five, with no days off. That would mitigate against the flukiness a bit, forcing teams to use more starting pitchers and manage their bullpens more like they do in the regular season. But more important, what a fantastic pace! Every day: baseball.

The divisional round would go Tuesday through Saturday, the LCS Sunday through Thursday, and the World Series would start on the second Saturday after the end of the season. The World Series can keep its normal compliment of days off, following Games 2 and 5.

And here's the best part of this plan: The World Series would end in the middle of October. This year, Game 7 would have been played on Oct. 19. That'd make for a lot better baseball than the cold-weather sport the World Series has become since it became a fixture of the Halloween season.

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Shorter series, more flukiness, fewer days off, more excitement and better baseball. It's way too good a plan to be taken seriously.


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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