x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Best-of-five series an ideal appetiser

Major League Baseball's post-season is under way which means, in no time, a team can be eliminated from the play-offs and sent home for the winter after just three games, touching off protests from fans, media and even players.

Major League Baseball's post-season is under way which means, in no time, a team can be eliminated from the play-offs and sent home for the winter after just three games, touching off protests from fans, media and even players. Witness the St Louis Cardinals, already summarily dispatched by the Los Angeles Dodgers. After a regular season schedule which lasts six months and runs for 162 games, all that hard work can be for nought after three short games. Over. Finished. Just like that.

Was it worth it? Was it worth it to play almost every day for half a year, and play well enough to reach the post-season, only to have it end so abruptly? Since MLB went to the current play-off format in 1994, which consists of a best-of-five Division Series, followed by a best-of-seven League Championship Series, and finally, of course, the best-of-seven World Series, there have been suggestions and demands that the first round should also be expanded to seven games.

Three losses - or wins depending on which team you play for or support - are not enough, the argument goes, not an accurate enough measure of the better team. Some call for consistency - if the second and third series are determined over as many as seven games, they argue, so too should the first. Naturally, those clamouring for an adjustment in the format are likely to be fans of or members of a team whose post-season run was cut short almost before it got started.

But there are inherent obstacles to such suggestions. First, by definition, an expanded first round would lengthen the baseball season. As it is, thanks to the World Baseball Classic last March, baseball could crown its champion this autumn as late as November 5. Only once before has the season carried into November, and that was in 2001, when the terrorist attacks of September 11 forced MLB to shutdown for a week, pushing the post-season past the traditional end-of-October finish line.

Under such a revised format, weather would probably become an even greater hindrance. Picture, say, a World Series between Boston and Chicago - one compromised by frigid temperatures, postponements, delays and a reduced quality of competition. As an alternative to a longer schedule and season, some have suggested shortening the regular season from 162 games to 154, which would allow for an expanded first round in the play-offs while still promising the completion of the World Series before the end of October.

This scenario has its own demerits. It would require the approval of the players' association and the owners, two groups who can seldom agree on the day of the week, much less a wholesale change in the season's format. It could be reasonably assumed that players would fight a reduction in pay of approximately five per cent, while owners would just as fiercely oppose the loss of four home dates each.

Moving from 162 games to 154 would also cause havoc with modern-day records. Suddenly, players would have to match single-season milestones with eight fewer chances, making it impossible to properly compare statistical achievement over the past half-century or so. The call for a new format ignores another point as well. Under the present format, the best-of-five Division Series is the perfect appetiser for the seven-game main courses to follow.

In today's crowded sports marketplace, expecting fans to sit through a five-week-long play-off marathon might be asking too much. @Email:smcadam@thenational.ae