With five playoff spots in each league, there is a good chance that a race or two extends to the last game of the season. In an effort to amplify the drama, Major League Baseball has scheduled every game on the final day of the regular season to start at the same time.
No longer will players squirm anxiously in the clubhouse, waiting to see whether their playoff fate will be decided before they can take the field. Instead, MLB has set up what could be the ultimate day of scoreboard watching.
“If a game impacts another game, they’re all occurring at the same time, so no team would be put into a lame-duck situation because their fate already had been decided by an earlier result,” said Tony Petitti, MLB chief operating officer.
“If we do have games coming down to the wire, we want to make sure we maximize that day.”
The schedule calls for all games on Oct. 4 to start at noon Pacific time (2 p.m. Central, 3 p.m. Eastern).
“It’s a cool little wrinkle,” Dodgers outfielder Andre Ethier said. “It will definitely make games more exciting that day.”
Said Petitti: “We’re hopeful that the races will come down to the last day of the season. We want to make sure we celebrate the end of the season properly.”
The impact could extend beyond the teams directly competing for a playoff berth. When the Pittsburgh Pirates lost on the final day of last season, the St. Louis Cardinals clinched the National League Central. The Cardinals promptly scratched ace Adam Wainwright, who had been warming up in the bullpen for a game in Arizona, and saved him for Game 1 of the division series against the Dodgers.
“If you can save Wainwright an extra day, that creates a little bit of an imbalance,” Dodgers pitcher Brandon McCarthy said. “You should have to play Game 162 the way you play the previous 161.”
And, said Dodgers catcher A.J. Ellis: “If somebody is banged up, you can’t risk resting him, because you haven’t already seen the score of the other game. “
The Dodgers players agreed that resting starters is a well-deserved perk for teams that clinch a division title comfortably — as the Dodgers did last season, when they won the NL West by six games. But they also gave thumbs up to the idea that every team would play at once on that last day.
“Hopefully it adds excitement,” Ellis said, “and a little bit of intrigue.”
The Dodgers split their squad after Thursday’s game, sending half the team to San Antonio for a two-game series with the Texas Rangers. Yasiel Puig, Adrian Gonzalez and Zack Greinke lead the Dodgers’ contingent to San Antonio, although Clayton Kershaw remained in Arizona to start Friday against the Oakland Athletics.
The Dodgers might take another spring trip next season, and they are considering invitations from cities outside Arizona — most notably Montreal, where Jackie Robinson played for what was then the Dodgers’ top farm team, the Montreal Royals. However, the Dodgers would be unlikely to participate in the annual Montreal exhibition games as long as they remain on the final weekend before the start of the regular season.
The Dodgers prefer to close their spring with the traditional Freeway Series games against the Angels, and they would be reluctant to fly from Arizona to Montreal and then back to the West Coast to start the season.
MLB controls exhibition games outside the United States and Canada, and the Dodgers could be invited to play in Cuba next spring. The Dodgers have three Cuban-born players — Puig, catcher Yasmani Grandal and infielder Alex Guerrero — and the club held spring training in Havana in 1941, 1942 and 1947.
Dodgers Manager Don Mattingly, speaking generally, said he understands the desire to promote the team and the sport but would prefer any split-squad travel games be held earlier in the spring.
“I’d rather be together at the end,” Mattingly said.
Brett Anderson was about 10 minutes into his pregame warmups Thursday when he was told to stop. The Angels’ team bus was stuck in traffic, and so he sat down for another 10 minutes before he resumed throwing. As it turned out, the Angels arrived in time, and Anderson rushed to complete his warmups so the game could start on time.
“I’m not using it as an excuse,” he said.
Anderson faced 12 batters, gave up three runs and seven hits, and lasted 1 2/3 innings.
“It was terrible by all standards,” he said. “Better to get it out of the way now.”
Anderson, signed for $10 million to be the Dodgers’ No. 5 starter, had pitched five scoreless innings previously this spring.