When Major League Baseball revealed its postseason schedule Tuesday, you had to wonder if Bill Belichick was consulted given how few days off were included.
Once the best-of-three first round ends, a team could conceivably play 12 games over 13 days before getting to the World Series.
The Division Series and League Championship Series will be conducted at neutral sites. The four American League teams will report to Southern California for games at Dodger Stadium or Petco Park in San Diego.
The National League teams will play in Texas at Minute Maid Park in Houston or the new Globe Life Field in Arlington.
The ALCS will be in San Diego and the NLCS in Arlington, with the World Series in Arlington.
The Division Series are scheduled for five games in as many days, with a day off before seven games in seven days for the LCS.
The days off for travel have been eliminated, which will put a huge burden on pitching staffs, managers, and pitching coaches to make the pieces fit. In the past, teams could use a three-man rotation in a seven-game series and mix in a No. 4 starter once.
Now teams could need No. 5 starters, or have to resort to bullpen games to get through seven games.
The traditional days off in a series usually serve as a reset for the pitching staff, especially the bullpen. Now managers will be forced to make difficult decisions on the fly. A reliever who struggles initially may not get a second chance.
“Current performance could outweigh past performance,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said. “That’s across the board, and I believe that.”
In 2018, Red Sox manager Alex Cora and pitching coach Dana LeVangie used what they called “rovers” to win the World Series, having starters work in relief based on upcoming days off to supplement the bullpen. The Nationals used the same approach last season.
The new format will require adjustments to that formula if starters have to go deeper in games to bail out overworked bullpens.
“I think it’s going to change it a lot,” Red Sox righthander Nate Eovaldi said. "In ’18, if our starters got in some trouble early, we kind of took them out quick and we had the bullpen come in, and there were starters in the bullpen, as well.
“I definitely think it’s going to change how the game is managed, for sure. You can’t run a reliever out there five days in a row. It’s going to be something new.”
Relievers who can get 4-5 outs — impressive White Sox rookie Matt Foster, as an example — will increase in value. It also demonstrates the foresight of Billy Beane picking up Mike Minor at the trade deadline. He gave the Athletics a sixth starter, and now they’ll have a decision as to who drops into the bullpen.
The Dodgers also seem well equipped, given their long list of arms. The Rays have 10 healthy pitchers in the player pool who have made at least one start and pitched 20 or more innings this season. They’ll be able to mix and match effectively.
Pitchers should be fresher coming off a 60-game schedule instead of 162, but the usual adrenaline spike that comes with a playoff atmosphere will be missing.
“Usually you don’t feel any aches or pains in the playoffs because you’re so amped to be out there,” said Red Sox reliever Matt Barnes, who has 11 postseason games on his résumé. “But now you won’t have the crowd. I don’t know how that’s going to work.”
The shorter regular season doesn’t necessarily lend itself to using relievers differently.
“A reliever can’t throw six or seven days in a row and be productive,” Barnes said. “Not having those days off will be one of the biggest hurdles managers and pitching coaches are going to have to tackle.”
There are scheduled days off after Games 2 and 5 in the World Series. By then, the teams will need them.
Red Sox layoffs hit some hard
The Red Sox media guide lists Debbie Matson as director of publications. But that doesn’t describe her impact on the organization.
She started with the team in 1986 and over the last 34 years has put together media guides, game programs, and most recently an alumni newsletter, “Diamond Days,” that former members of the team have come to cherish.
Through the death of her parents and her own health issues, Matson showed up at Fenway Park for work. The Red Sox and the people she worked with were part of her family in a lot of ways.
“Everybody loves her,” one Sox employee said.
Matson was one of the approximately 40 employees laid off this month as the Red Sox dropped 10 percent of their full-time staff. Most of the cuts came Thursday and several of the people saw long tenures with the team come to an end.
“It’s been a rough few days,” another employee said. “This whole season has been hard to go through.”
The Red Sox are not a public trust. They’re a privately owned company with hundreds of employees and there’s a financial consequence to going an entire season without fans being allowed into games because of the pandemic. At some point, hard decisions had to be made.
If you want to hold John Henry and Tom Werner responsible, know that layoffs, furloughs, and pay cuts are happening across the sport, some made by owners with deeper pockets.
We romanticize baseball. But teams aren’t different than hotels, restaurants, airlines, nightclubs, theaters, or dozens of the companies who rely on people walking through the door. They’re losing money.
When that happens, jobs are lost and good people such as Debbie Matson bear the burden.
A few other observations about the Red Sox:
▪ Though Friday, Alex Verdugo was the only hitter in the majors (with a minimum of 50 at-bats) to be hitting at least .300 against righthanders (.322) and lefthanders (.339).
Remember when he didn’t start on Opening Day against Orioles lefty Tommy Milone?
Verdugo is fifth in the American League with a 2.2 WAR.
▪ None of the players traded by the Sox near the deadline have done much for their new clubs. Particularly Brandon Workman, who allowed nine runs on 22 hits and nine walks in his first 11⅔ innings for the Phillies.
“He can’t get righthanded hitters out,” one scout said. “I thought he made sense for them, too. I don’t think he’s comfortable throwing his curveball to their catchers.”
Heath Hembree gave up nine runs in his first eight innings for the Phillies. Mitch Moreland went into the weekend 8 of 49 for the Padres with four RBIs, and Kevin Pillar had a .692 OPS in his first 15 games for the Rockies.
Josh Osich has been in only three games for the Cubs.
▪ One of the Red Sox employees let go was Gordon Edes, the team historian and a communications adviser to the owners. Edes, a former Globe baseball writer, joined the team in 2015.
▪ Jonathan Arauz has been nailed to the bench with the Sox giving a long look to Christian Arroyo at second base. Arauz, a 22-year-old Rule 5 pick, will likely start next season in the minors.
“He’s done a nice job for us,” manager Ron Roenicke said. “We have seen what we needed to see in him. We have a good feeling on who he is.”
Jeter Downs is the best candidate over the long term at second base. But he has only 12 games above Single A and needs more development time. Whether it’s Arroyo or somebody else, the Sox need a placeholder.
Lester ponders the future
Jon Lester made what could be his final start for the Cubs at Wrigley Field on Wednesday. He went five innings against the Indians and allowed two runs in a game Chicago won, 3-2, in 10 innings.
“A lot of emotions going into tonight. Trying to make tonight go well. Maybe the effort was a little too much,” Lester said after the game.
Ideally, Lester would have come off the mound to an ovation from the fans. But that didn’t happen. He didn’t get that opportunity with the Red Sox, either, when he was traded.
“That’s the most frustrating part,” Lester said. “Going back to 2014, I didn’t get to walk off the field like I wanted to at Fenway. Having an empty stadium is not how I envisioned my last start here.”
Lester has not made a start at Fenway since July 20, 2014. He was traded to the Athletics 11 days later.
Lester could make two more starts in the regular season, but both would be on the road. He’s lined up to be the No. 3 starter in the postseason, so there’s a possibility that’s it for him at Wrigley in a home uniform.
Lester has been everything the Cubs wanted after they signed him to a six-year, $145 million deal. He’s 76-43 with a 3.61 regular-season ERA and hasn’t missed any starts.
The Cubs hold a $25 million option on Lester for 2021 or can buy him out for $10 million. A buyout is more likely given the revenue drain caused by the pandemic and the fact that Lester will be 37 in January.
Lester would have three choices at that point: Retire and enjoy the fruits of a hugely successful career, negotiate a new deal with the Cubs, or sign with another team.
Lester would theoretically be a nice fit for the Red Sox, who desperately need starting pitching and leadership. What better role model for Tanner Houck, Bryan Mata, and Jay Groome could there be given Lester’s experience and success in Boston?
But Lester made it clear on Twitter he wants to stay with the Cubs.
“Make no mistake, Chicago is home, the Cubs are family, and there’s no uniform I’d rather wear next year for my 200th win,” he wrote.
Cubs manager David Ross wants Lester back, too.
“There’s nobody that’s done more for me in my career than that human being,” Ross said. “And what he means to me and my family and the things he’s done for me, as part of my career, I wouldn’t be sitting in this seat without that guy.”
The Yankees lost a significant figure in team history when Mark Newman died earlier this month. Newman, who was 71, ran player development for many years and shepherded players such as Robinson Cano, Derek Jeter, Andy Pettitte, Jorge Posada, Mariano Rivera, and Bernie Williams to the majors. Newman was a former college coach and had a knack for communicating with young players, knowing when to push them — and he pushed hard — and when to pull back. I covered the Double A Yankees when they played in Norwich, Conn., in the ’90s and a visit to the ballpark by Newman meant being on your toes or risk the team getting chewed out after the game . . . It’s good that baseball has a replay system to correct egregiously incorrect calls, but the spirit of the rule has been lost. The Blue Jays, trailing 13-2, challenged a call with two outs in the ninth inning in a game against the Yankees this past week. The decision to challenge should be taken away from managers and given to a fifth umpire watching replays from the ballpark or New York … Marcell Ozuna wanted to stay with the Cardinals, but they balked at the price and he landed with the Braves for one year and $18 million. Now the Cardinals are 14th in the National League in runs per game and Ozuna has a 1.010 OPS and 47 RBIs through 51 games. The Cardinals didn’t know at the time they’d get a DH, but their offense lacks pop regardless . . . The Astros, who have struggled this month but remain positioned to make the playoffs, were optimistic Justin Verlander would return from the injured list. But elbow pain led to a decision to have Tommy John surgery. Verlander will miss all of 2021, then be a 39-year-old free agent with a Hall of Fame résumé. Verlander said Saturday on Instagram that he plans to return. You also have to wonder if this will trigger a rebuilding phase for Houston . . . Kyle Gibson’s 1-0 shutout of the Astros on Wednesday was the first for a Rangers pitcher since Bobby Witt, the pride of Canton High, beat the Twins, 1-0, on Aug. 26, 1990 . . . Alec Mills, who threw a no-hitter for the Cubs last Sunday, was a 22nd-round draft pick of the Royals in 2012. He worked his way up to the majors in ’16, then was traded to Chicago a year later. It’s a great story, a late-round pick persevering and finding success. But how much longer before players such as Mills become anachronisms? MLB cut the draft to five rounds this year and could cap it at 20 rounds in 2021 as the lower levels of the minor leagues are eliminated. With undrafted free agents capped at $10,000 signing bonuses, chasing baseball dreams will be limited to those who can pay their way . . . When Mills no-hit the Brewers, Ross joined Joe Girardi and Scott Servais as active managers who caught no-hitters and managed a pitcher who threw one . . . The Mets signed Jed Lowrie for two years and $20 million. He’ll leave the organization having gone 0 for 7 with a walk in nine games. With this season’s prorated salaries, Lowrie made $13.7 million and reached base once. That’s an expensive walk. Lowrie missed most of last season with a sprained left knee. He showed up at spring training this season with a large brace on his left leg and never got on the field when the season restarted. Both player and team were evasive about the situation to a point where the Mets refused to update his status even after Lowrie gave up and went home this past week . . . The Giants are concerned that Mike Yastrzemski’s calf strain could keep him out through the end of the regular season. Young Yaz said Friday he hopes his teammates would give him another chance to play this season. Without Yastrzemski, San Francisco’s lack of outfield depth is more pronounced . . . Happy birthday to Jason Bay, who is 42. He had a robust .915 OPS over 200 regular-season games for the Red Sox from 2008-09. Bay was obtained from the Pirates as part of the three-team deal that got Manny Ramirez out of town. Bay played well for the Sox, then signed with the Mets as a free agent after rejecting arbitration. His four-year, $66 million deal proved a bust as Bay was hit by a series of injuries and his performance plummeted. Jeffrey Springs, who now pitches for the Sox, is 28.