On pace of play during the postseason

Forgive me for covering a non-Nationals related topic in my blog post this morning, but with both League Championship Series set to hold Game 3 today, I wanted to bring up something that has been on my mind lately.

Clearly, I love the game of baseball. Have since I was a kid. I spent somewhere around 20 full days of my life watching baseball in person this summer. (If we assume a regular season game lasts somewhere around three hours, that's eight games in a 24-hour period, and 160 games can be crammed into 20 different 24-hour windows. My brain hurts now from all that math.)

nats-park-on-field-lineups-sidebar.jpgEven with the Nationals having been knocked out in the Division Series, I've watched most of the LCS battles in both leagues. And while the games have been very entertaining and quite dramatic, even I, a gigantic baseball fan, feel they've gone on far too long.

In the ALCS, the Orioles and Royals have played a 10-inning game in 4 hours, 37 minutes and a nine-inning game in 4 hours, 17 minutes.

In the NLCS, the two games between the Giants and Cardinals have averaged out to 3 hours, 32 minutes. That's not abnormal, especially when it comes to postseason games with longer commercial breaks and - typically - more pitching changes.

My main issue on this topic comes with the fact that these games are often starting at 8 p.m. on the East Coast, or sometimes even later. Game 1 of the ALCS started after 8 p.m. and then didn't end until close to 1 a.m.

This is a sport that claims that it's trying to reach out to young fans and find a way to connect with the younger generation, a generation that (sweeping generalization coming) seems to have a lower attention span and is less willing to sit around for 4.5 hours without pulling out their phones and playing Angry Birds.

If the league is trying to appeal to the teenagers-and-under age group, wouldn't it make sense to start these games earlier, so that the ballgames can wrap up by the time these kids have to go to bed? I'm not talking about much earlier start times here; if games actually get under way by 6:30 p.m. or 7 p.m. they'll be over by 11 p.m., even if we have more four-hour marathons.

Major League Baseball has started experimental pace of game initiatives, intended to speed up games, that will be tested out during the Arizona Fall League. They include rules for when batters can step out of the batter's box in between pitches, eliminating the need to actually throw four balls if you're trying to issue an intentional walk and a pitch clock, intended to get pitchers to deliver the ball to the plate in a timely manner.

The hope here, in the long run, is that we won't have 4-hour, 17-minute nine-inning ballgames. Those games are far too long for the average fan, especially one who doesn't have much of a rooting interest in that particular postseason game, if his or her team has already been knocked out.

In the short term, however, the league could probably expand its postseason viewership if it consented to earlier start times. But that's unlikely to happen, unfortunately, because of the money that comes with having games in primetime.

This has been a thrilling postseason to this point, with tremendous defensive plays, mammoth home runs (thank you, Bryce Harper) and dramatic finishes to ballgames. I have been watching and will continue to watch. I just wish more people were watching along with me.

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