The World Series matchup is set with the Astros and Phillies both punching their tickets Sunday night. So what now? Unfortunately, all we can do is wait until the series begins Friday night in Houston, with a four-day layoff in between.
For advertising purposes, MLB’s playoff calendar is determined weeks, if not months, in advance, eliminating any chance of baseball’s marquee event starting earlier. Predictably, fans weren’t thrilled by this development, with the four-day hiatus representing a missed opportunity for a league and sport that—amid declining television viewership—can’t afford to be out of the spotlight for very long.
The longer-than-expected gap between playoff rounds can be attributed to the Phillies and Astros both making quick work of their LCS opponents, with neither series lasting longer than five games. Whether that’s a product of MLB’s new playoff format or pure happenstance is anyone’s guess.
Regardless, this predicament is emblematic of a larger issue, with baseball’s scheduling woes leading to unwelcome conflicts like Sunday’s NLCS Game 5, with Bryce Harper’s late-inning heroics buried by a full slate of NFL games on CBS and Fox. A week earlier, the Yankees, following another weather postponement, staged ALDS Game 5 Tuesday afternoon at 4 PM ET, which isn’t the most convenient start time for people who have jobs, especially with New York’s famously oppressive rush-hour traffic to contend with.
Far removed from its heyday as “America’s past time,” expectations have changed with no prayer of MLB ever catching the NFL, NBA or even college football in America’s sports pecking order. That’s not lost on commissioner Rob Manfred, who has responded with a sense of urgency, throwing the kitchen sink at rule changes in hopes of keeping baseball relevant amid an evolving media landscape increasingly shaped by streaming, social media and sports betting. True fans will jump through whatever hoops necessary to get their baseball fix, but it’s doubtful the sport is winning any new converts by broadcasting afternoon playoff games on TBS and FS1.
While anticipation builds, this year’s participants will surely appreciate the time off, getting a well-deserved breather after months of burning the candle at both ends. Philadelphia seems especially hyped to be back in the Fall Classic (an 11-year playoff drought will do that to a fanbase), with standing-room tickets for Games 3-5 at Citizens Bank Park selling for upwards of $1,000 on the secondary market.