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    Hoornstra: Here’s how to fix 5-day layoff for MLB’s top-seeded playoff teams
    • October 19, 2023

    When Major League Baseball and the MLB Players’ Association compromised on an expanded 12-team playoff field, it came with a rather consequential side effect: five days off at the end of the regular season for the two best teams in each league.

    That downtime didn’t stop the Houston Astros from beating the Minnesota Twins in the American League Division Series, but it did seem to neuter the Dodgers, Atlanta Braves and Baltimore Orioles in their respective series. They combined to go 1-9 in the division series round after each team won at least 100 games in the regular season.

    In the aftermath of their losses, it was interesting to hear the principals from each team try to reconcile their regular-season dominance with their postseason faceplants.

    “I mean, we thought we did everything possible during the delay, recreated things the best we could,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said shortly after his team was eliminated by the Philadelphia Phillies.

    “We tried to simulate a lot of at-bats Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, because there’s no question that five days off affects hitters’ timing,” Dodgers president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman said at his annual end-of-season press conference on Tuesday. “Now if getting enough at-bats leading up to that keeps that timing in place, obviously we didn’t do a good enough job.”

    The Dodgers opened one of their three intrasquad games to fans and reporters. Of the 11 pitchers who faced their teammates that day, all 11 saw action on a major league mound during the 2023 season. The quality of pitching the Dodgers’ hitters faced during their five-day layoff wasn’t an issue. Neither, perhaps, was the quantity of at-bats they took.

    From the press box at least, the problem appeared to be one of intensity.

    Half of the Dodgers’ players wore white jersey tops, the other half blue, but occasionally a blue player would bat for the white squad. Some innings lasted three outs, some four, others five. A smattering of fans in the lower deck of seats in left field helped fill the air with noise. By the end of the game, you could hardly blame fans for focusing more on two screens above the bleachers showing the Arizona Diamondbacks’ wild-card game against the Milwaukee Brewers.

    Taking a baseball player out of the routine he performs 162 times a year is anathema to intensity. From the beginning of April until the end of September, there are only game days or non-game days. One brings a degree of intensity. The other does not. There’s simply no way around that.

    “Our goal next year is to win the division and have those five days off again,” Friedman said. “It’s two years into this (postseason) format. We don’t concern ourselves too much with what’s optimal, what’s ideal. It doesn’t really matter. It is what it is. For us, it’s about how to operate the best we can within it.”

    Here’s an idea for the two top-seeded teams in each league: Fill your five off-days with practice games. Keep the number of at-bats and quality of opposing pitchers high. Only next time, make sure it’s a game of consequence for one of the two teams on the field.


    As it turns out, Oct. 2-7 wasn’t a game day for nearly every professional baseball team on the planet. That includes the champions of each of the four independent “partner leagues” of MLB: the Atlantic League, the American Association, the Frontier League and the Pioneer League.

    The Fargo-Moorhead RedHawks cut it close. On Oct. 1, they defeated los Caimanes Barranquilla, the top team in Colombia’s professional league, to close out the Baseball Champions League Americas tournament in Mexico. The next day, they flew home.

    How practical would it have been for Fargo-Moorhead to divert its journey through, say, Atlanta, Los Angeles, Baltimore or Houston for a few days? Very, said Joshua Schaub, the commissioner of the American Association.

    “We’re more than willing to get on a plane to play an MLB team,” he said.

    An American Association team typically travels “29 or 30 people” on a road trip, Schaub said. He estimated it would cost no more than $15,000 to fly them all into any major airport. That’s pocket change for an MLB team.

    The caliber of competition in the AA isn’t entirely major-league quality, but it’s not far off. Fargo’s leadoff hitter was Dillon Thomas, who as recently as last season was in the major leagues with the Angels. There are a few pitchers in the league who can touch 100 mph, Schaub said, “but usually they sit 92 or faster.” Control isn’t such an issue that hitters would be left ducking for cover.

    Want the independent ballers to raise their intensity for an exhibition game? Invite scouts. Schaub said there were 52 in attendance at the Baseball Champions League Americas tournament.

    “Guys play their (butts) off to get picked up by a scout in attendance,” he said.

    The Atlantic League postseason also ends just in time for MLB’s wild-card round. The league selects players to an All-Star team too, but unlike the American Association they don’t stage a game – practically begging for an excuse to get the All-Stars on the field. This season, Atlantic League teams could have filled a pitching staff with 10 former major leaguers from their season-ending rosters.

    “Having a member of the Atlantic League play an exhibition game or series against an MLB club preparing for the postseason would be a concept that we would be very willing to discuss,” Atlantic League president Rick White said. “There could be a number of options, whether a current club or a collection of top players, and the logistics would need to be worked out. But as a concept, we would be open to the idea. I can promise you that any collection of the Atlantic League’s top players would certainly be a worthy opponent for any club preparing for the postseason. Of course, any such discussion would be subject to the approval of Major League Baseball.”

    To participate in a three-game exhibition series after the regular season, the current Collective Bargaining Agreement only requires that players get permission from their team and the commissioner. Staging an early-October series against a team full of indy ball opponents with something at stake, in theory, should not be a tough sell to players. It was the Players’ Association who first raised concerns about the effects of a five-day layoff during CBA negotiations before ultimately agreeing to an expanded 12-team postseason.

    Four independent “partner leagues” and four postseason teams struggling with a five-day layoff seems like a perfect marriage. Of course, no marriage is perfect. The caliber of play in the Frontier and Pioneer leagues isn’t as high as the American Association or Atlantic League. The specifics would have to be ironed out.

    Even if the exhibition games don’t perfectly simulate a game-day experience for the major league players, it should raise their level of intensity by a notch. Given the limitations of a 12-team playoff field, that should be the goal of every team facing the blessed curse of a five-day layoff.

    ​ Orange County Register