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Wednesday, September 4, 2013
A look at the postseason schedule

By Jayson Stark



If you peruse your brand-new 2013 postseason schedule, hot off the MLB presses, you'll see that the National League wild-card game will take place on Tuesday, Oct. 1.

But guess what?

Not necessarily.

It's still possible, according to two sources familiar with the plans, that MLB could switch the NL wild-card game to Wednesday, Oct. 2, and move the American League wild-card game into that Oct. 1 slot.

And why, you ask, would that happen?

Because, although the new postseason sked has a lot more breathing room than last year's squished, squashed, jam-packed mess, MLB has allowed only one day after the regular season to break ties, make up late rainouts, etc., in the National League.

And suppose that one day turns out not to be enough? Hoo-boy.

Suppose we wind up with one of those dreaded three-way ties, where the Pirates, Cardinals and Reds all finish with the same record in the NL Central?

Uh-oh. Then we've got issues.

Then we have a mess that would take two days to untangle. And that would mean baseball's last-minute postseason contingency plans would be unleashed on the world -- which would flip the AL wild-card game to Tuesday, with the NL game moving to Wednesday.

But hold on. That's not all. The end of September and early October could turn into an NL Central version of a Nick at Nite "Brady Bunch" marathon, where every time you look up, the same teams are playing each other. Consider this possibility:

• The Pirates and Reds finish the season with three games against each other in Cincinnati, Sept. 27-29.

• If the two of them wind up with the same record but have a better record than the Cardinals, we'd have yet another Reds-Pirates game the next day to break their tie for first place.

• The loser would then play the Cardinals the following day in the wild-card game, and if, say, the Reds won that game, they'd careen right into a best-of-five Division Series that could potentially match them up against -- yessir -- the Pirates. In other words, those two teams could find themselves playing each other nine times in 12 days.

Ah, but hold on again. That's actually one of the most sane scenarios.

Suppose the Pirates, Reds and Cardinals finish in a three-way tie? Then we get this crazy schedule:

• The Pirates and Reds still finish the season against each other, Sept. 27-29.

• The next day, two of those three NL Central teams would hold a tiebreaker game. (At this point, that would most likely be a Reds-Cardinals game in St. Louis, but that could change.) The loser would still be a wild-card team. But the winner …

• Would go on to play the third team on Tuesday, Oct. 1, to decide the division. But since that was supposed to be the day of the NL wild-card game, the AL wild-card game would be moved to Tuesday night, while that NL Central tiebreaker game would be played that afternoon.

• The loser of that NL Central derby then would have to play the other NL wild-card team the next day (Wednesday, Oct. 2) -- again, almost certainly, in the afternoon. And the winner of the wild-card game would have to jet off to start the NLDS the next day (Thursday, Oct. 3) -- possibly as far away as Los Angeles.

• But there is still the potential for the winner of that game to play the NL Central champ, based on the yet-to-be-determined final seeding. So …

It's not out of the question that a team like the Reds could play the Pirates on Friday, Saturday and Sunday in Cincinnati, face the Cardinals on Monday in St. Louis (tiebreaker), play the Pirates again on Tuesday in Cincinnati (tiebreaker), play the Cardinals on Wednesday somewhere or other (wild-card game), then visit the Pirates on Thursday and Friday in Pittsburgh.

Phew. Got all that? I'll concede that isn't likely. But it ain't impossible, either.

And, in the meantime, you could have just one AL game played between Sunday and Friday, when both of the AL Division Series are scheduled to begin. And we look forward to all the grumbling from those teams, while they're waiting around for their October fun to begin as NL Central games bust out all over their flat-screens.

Finally, here's what else you need to know about the new postseason schedule:

Good news: Last year, the entire postseason was crammed into a calendar that allowed only 28 days between the wild-card games and Game 7 of the World Series. This year, that's been stretched out to 31 days, which allows important breathing room for travel days and weather issues.

Bad news: Players are already grumbling that some teams are looking, potentially, at way too much downtime between series. The top two teams in the AL have four days off between the end of the season and the start of the Division Series. ("Just long enough to lose your rhythm," one player said.) And the NL representative in the World Series will have anywhere from four days to a week between the final game of the NLCS and Game 1 of the World Series -- even if the ALCS is a sweep. ("If you think this is a good idea," the same player said, "see 'Colorado 2007.'")

Good news: No more of the awful 2-3 format in the Division Series, where the team with the worse regular-season record hosted Games 1 and 2. We're back to the old 2-2-1 format that allows the higher-seeded teams to host Games 1, 2 and 5, and allows two travel days instead of one.

Good news: Both NL Division Series will start on the same day (Oct. 3). And both AL Division Series will start the next day (Oct. 4). So why is that a big deal? Well, last year, because the two wild-card games were jammed into a schedule that wasn't built to accommodate them, the Division Series were staggered. So two teams in each league started their LDS a day before the other two teams. And the upshot was that we wound up with a weird schedule that gave the Yankees no days off between Game 5 of the ALDS and Game 1 of the ALCS. Meanwhile, the Tigers found themselves in limbo -- not knowing UNTIL THE NIGHT BEFORE whether they were starting the ALCS in Detroit or New York. No more of that nuttiness, thankfully.

Bad news: This is nothing new. But if the powers that be wanted October to mirror the rhythms and demands of the regular season as much as possible, they wouldn't allow artificial gaps between each round. If two teams in the same league swept their Division Series, they would ideally start their LCS two days later instead of wasting four days waiting around for the TV people to say it was OK to begin the ALCS. And ditto for the World Series. But because MLB still lets Fox determine the entire World Series schedule in advance, this is the schedule we're stuck with. Maybe that will change one of these decades if players continue to make enough noise about it. But not this year.