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Stay or go? A verdict on each of baseball’s new rule changes | Bob Brookover

Baseball put in some new rules to help cope with the COVID-19 pandemic during the shortened 2020 season. A lot of them should remain, but the expanded playoff format needs to be tweaked.

The Houston Astros came within a win of reaching the World Series despite finishing the regular season with a losing record.
The Houston Astros came within a win of reaching the World Series despite finishing the regular season with a losing record.Read moreGregory Bull / AP

The 2020 baseball season is going to end soon and the most popular response around here will likely be good riddance to bad rubbish. Credit will be due to whichever team wins the World Series, and actually both the Los Angeles Dodgers and Tampa Bay Rays should be applauded for surviving the longest postseason in history.

For just the second time in this century and the fourth time since the playoffs expanded beyond four teams, the best two teams in each league reached the championship round, and there are a lot of reasons to believe the Dodgers and Rays would have retained that status even if it had been a standard 162-game season.

As difficult as it was to watch a season that had more COVID-19 outbreaks than fans, some of the changes made necessary by the pandemic actually made the game better and should remain in the future.

Let’s take a look at what should stay and what should go.

The expanded playoffs

The expansion of the postseason was a good idea, but it went too far. By expanding to eight teams, the Milwaukee Brewers and Houston Astros, both at 29-31, became the first teams in major-league history to qualify for the playoffs with a losing record, which might be commonplace in other sports but should be forbidden in a season that is typically 162 games.

If the 2019 season had eight playoff teams in each league, the Texas Rangers would have qualified with a 78-84 record, and it’s just wrong to reward that kind of season with a shot to knock off the team with the best record in its league in a three-game series.

The better solution would be a six-team field with the two division winners with the best records getting a first-round bye while the division winner with the worst record gets to choose which of the three wild-card teams it wants to play. I like the idea of keeping the higher seed with the home field for all three games of the opening-round series.

I also like the idea of no days off during the division series and League Championship Series because it better emulates the regular season in terms of testing the depth of a pitching staff. The standard travel days off for the World Series are fine because baseball should stretch out its signature event.

Extra-inning rule

Starting a runner at second base in extra innings did little to help the length of games in terms of time. The average length of each game this season was 3 hours, 6 minutes, compared with a record-long 3:10 minutes in 2019. Both are far too long. The time of nine-inning games actually went up to a record 3:07 from 3:05, and the only reason overall time of games went down was because of seven-inning doubleheaders and the new extra-inning rule.

No extra-inning game went more than 13 innings in 2020 and only 14 of the 153 extra-inning games went more than 11 innings, so the rule obviously worked at shortening the number of innings. More than that, it created instant drama and baseball strategy because managers had to decide if they wanted to move the runner from second to third by sacrificing the leadoff hitter at the start of every half inning.

I like three-on-three hockey for five minutes of overtime during the regular season and a like the runner at second in extra innings, too. This rule needs to stay.

The universal DH

This rule is here to stay, and after 47 years in which the two leagues played under different rules it was time to make things uniform. Yes, some strategy has been lost, but it’s more appealing to see an actual hitter at the plate rather than a pitcher who typically makes little contact. It’s also a better way to give position players a partial rest while also keeping the bat of a player like Bryce Harper or J.T. Realmuto in the lineup.

With apologies to Rick Wise, Bob Gibson, Madison Bumgarner, and all the other good-hitting pitchers from the past, we welcome the far more consistent added offense to the National League.

Seven-inning doubleheaders

Because of the pandemic, the disparity in the number of doubleheaders played in 2020 was ridiculous. A disparity, likely to a lesser degree, would remain in the future because of domes and climate differences among the 30 teams.

The St. Louis Cardinals played a major-league-leading 11 doubleheaders while the Phillies checked in at second with eight. The Dodgers, on the other hand, were one of three National League teams to play only two doubleheaders and the Cleveland Indians did not play any.

That’s almost like playing two different sports when you consider how many more innings the Dodgers and Indians had to play and how different the season’s regimen was for the Cardinals and Phillies. It was understandable why it had to be that way this season, but baseball is meant to be nine innings, and that’s what all games should be.

The three-batter minimum

I never liked the two-drink minimum and I don’t like the three-batter minimum either. Phillies manager Joe Girardi, at least on the latter issue, is with me.

“Don’t change the strategy of the game,” Girardi said on MLB Network Radio earlier this month. “It changes the strategy too much.”

The rule, designed to speed up the game and limit the number of pitching changes, forces a relief pitcher to face a minimum of three batters if he enters the game in the middle of an inning. Girardi is correct in noting that it creates hitter-pitcher matchups that a manager would otherwise alter by making a change. Since it also failed to speed up the game, the rule should be rescinded before next season.

No spitting

Good try,guys, but the players obviously spit all over that one and they weren’t so keen on social- distancing either. Still, they are going to complete the 2020 season, and it’s easy to forget how much in doubt that was in April, May, and June.