Once upon a time, the postseason provided fans the opportunity to see baseball at its best. Today, it gives us the chance to watch mound visits and pitching changes at their most.
In Game 1 of the World Series, the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Boston Red Sox deployed 12 pitchers. By comparison, when the Dodgers and the New York Yankees met in 1963, they needed only 11 pitchers to get through the entire series.
Over the four-game sweep, the LA starters covered 35 1/3 innings. A single reliever was needed, to get a grand total of two outs.
Watching managers take the ball from one pitcher and hand it to another is about as exciting as watching someone buy snacks from a vending machine. Baseball has always been a game in which most of the actual playing time features a lot of people standing around waiting for something to happen. Now each game features a lot of people standing around waiting for the game to resume so they can stand around waiting for something to happen.
It's as though Major League Baseball, responding to the perception of many people that the game was slow and tedious, decided to address that complaint by making it even…slower…and…more…tedious.
This is not just a postseason phenomenon. Starting pitchers, not so long ago, used to manage the heroic feat of lasting nine innings on a regular basis. In 1993, Chuck Finley led the majors with 13 complete games. In 2018, eight different guys tied for the lead, with two. Next year, I predict, all pitchers will be tied for the lead, with zero.
During the National League Championship Series, the Milwaukee Brewers took this trend to its logical endpoint by sending out a starter for the express purpose of facing exactly one batter—after which he was excused for the evening to gleefully calculate his per-batter earnings.
Not only does the plethora of pitching changes foster boredom; it stretches games out to epic lengths. Game 1 took three hours and 52 minutes. That's six minutes longer than the film Gone With the Wind—which, when it came out, was the longest movie ever made. Game 1 took just three minutes less than it took to play the last two games of the 1963 series.
Maybe there are some fans who get a thrill every time a manager makes the long hike to send his pitcher to the showers. For everyone else, I have a suggestion that would speed things up: Stop letting relievers throw warmup pitches when they enter the game.
This ritual has been around forever, but it wastes a lot of time. MLB grants two minutes and 55 seconds for a new pitcher to reach the mound and prepare his essential appendage. Every reliever who enters in the middle of an inning robs fans of three minutes of our allotted life spans.
And why does a professional ballplayer need this process? When a backup quarterback trots out on the field, he doesn't get to make a few practice throws before taking a snap. When a pinch hitter steps to the plate, he doesn't insist on hitting some soft tosses to hone his stroke. Getting ready is what the bullpen is for, after all.
Abolishing warmup pitches would save a couple of minutes each time a reliever is called, and in the course of what has become a normal game, the minutes would add up. It would also eliminate an empty interlude that holds the attention of nobody in the stands and subjects TV audiences to yet more commercials.
Purists will say that relievers, deprived of their mound tosses, would be less effective. This is probably true. But it's a feature, not a bug.
If relievers were more prone to missing the strike zone or serving up meatballs, managers would be less inclined to use them. Or they would insert subs more often at the start of an inning, when they are guaranteed warmup time. Either way, the game would move faster, and fewer fans would drag themselves off to bed long before the final out.
If you like baseball as it is now, with frequent delays and interruptions and games that last for days, maybe you'd be even happier dispensing with the players. Then you could direct your full attention to an even more exciting pastime: watching the outfield grass grow.