A few thoughts on playoff layoff and fewer division games

The finality of the Orioles’ season erases games and ticket requests – and I definitely can speak to the latter - but not the lingering questions.

There’s much to review about a 101-win season, as well as the three straight losses to the Rangers in the Division Series that left manager Brandon Hyde “irritated” and “pissed.”

Those feelings were shared by many in the organization.

Two subjects came up in last week’s media session that are worth revisiting this morning.

Is the five-day layoff an excuse for early playoff exits?

I’m not aware of a scientific study on the subject, let alone solid evidence that proves a point. But the three teams with 100 or more victories – the Orioles, Braves and Dodgers – didn’t make it past the Division Series. They earned a break and then splintered.

The results were swift and painful. The Orioles and Dodgers were swept, and Atlanta lost in four games.  But the Astros, who won the American League West, advanced to the Championship Series after eliminating the Twins.

Quick take: I don’t know about an alternative to the current arrangement. The wild card round must be completed, and it doesn’t include travel days. As fast as it can go unless killing the best-of-three format. Major League Baseball isn’t going to reduce the number of qualifiers. And it’s OK to joke about teams avoiding division titles, and the layoff, but no one is seriously endorsing a rollover strategy.

Extended take: Simulated games during workout week at Camden Yards can’t duplicate the real thing. Hence, the word “simulated.” Can’t match the energy level and intensity. But the Orioles didn’t sit around for five days getting fat and happier. Rust wasn’t an issue.

The Rangers got on a roll and didn’t stop, an offense that led the majors in numerous categories bashing through the playoffs. The Orioles were stumbling, with their offense laboring to score runs and produce in the clutch. They hit three homers in the last 10 regular season games and scored two runs or fewer in seven of their last 11.

Key players carried slumps into the playoffs, including Cedric Mullins, Ryan O’Hearn and Austin Hays.

Two of the Orioles’ three starters lasted 1 2/3 innings and allowed five runs in the second.

We’re blaming the layoff?

“It’s interesting,” said executive vice president/general manager Mike Elias. “I’m following it and I’m aware of what’s going on with the other teams. First of all, I don’t want to make that as an excuse. I do not believe that was the difference between us winning or getting swept in the ALDS the way we did. I don’t have a big opinion about it.”

I get the arguments that wild card teams find it easier to maintain their edge. Also, the Rangers were fighting for a division title until the final day. They never had a chance to coast. But these teams also didn’t get a chance to rest up and heal. There are always two sides.

Hyde went into the workouts saying that a two-day break was preferred over five. Asked about it again during last week’s media session, he said, “Well, I don’t think it helps. Let’s put it that way.”

“I don’t know what they’re going to do. I know that there’s people making a lot more money than I do that figure that out. There’s a lot more money involved than my opinion, so I don’t know what they’re going to do about that.

“I think it’s a long time.”

Did a more balanced schedule help the Orioles?

It was supposed to work out that way. Life in baseball’s hardest division easing up on a team with one of its lowest payrolls and still fighting to emerge from the depths of a rebuild.

And then, a funny thing happened. The Orioles weren’t patsies. They became powerful.

The final records against the American League East:

Boston – 7-6
New York – 7-6
Tampa Bay – 8-5
Toronto – 10-3

That’s a combined 32-20, the fifth-best division record in club history. The Orioles hadn’t won the season series against every team since 2014.

The reversal wasn’t evident after they lost the first two series against the Red Sox and Yankees, but they went 10-0-4 the rest of the way. They surpassed their previous record of 13 consecutive non-losing division series set in 1969, per the Elias Sports Bureau.

That’s the first season to feature divisions.

The Orioles aren’t campaigning for a return to an imbalanced schedule and to face AL East opponents 19 times, but they finally seem equipped to handle any number of games. Ironic, coincidence or however you view it.

“I thought it would (help) going into the season,” Elias said. “I haven’t really looked at it or thought about it, looking back now. I think our record against the AL East was good and maybe better against our generic records. So, I don’t know. I’d have to take a look at that. That’s an interesting question.”

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