Major League Baseball has announced that the Marlins and Braves will be playing in the leadoff spot this week. On Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday—as well as Friday and Saturday, if necessary—their games will have the earliest start times of any Division Series matchup.
Although it’s ordinarily a proud distinction to be “first” in baseball, that is not applicable here. Quite the opposite: this MLB scheduling decision reeks of disrespect and incompetence.
There are million of sports fans in the United States who likely won’t be available to watch any substantial piece of the Marlins-Braves NLDS, including die-hards rooting for the teams directly involved. They’ll have to hope for extra innings, or that the series extends into the weekend by requiring the maximum five games to determine a winner.
This configuration, while deflating, comes as no surprise considering the other MLB teams remaining in championship contention. The Dodgers and Padres are vying for the other berth in the National League Championship Series; on the American League side, we’re getting the Yankees-Rays and Astros-Athletics rivalries. The decision-makers wanted to space out the start times for these games to create a marathon experience—theoretically, fans who have the lifestyle flexibility to sit on the couch all day staring into their television/computer screen can watch every pivotal moment with minimal channel flipping. (I write this as somebody who is near that end of the spectrum, but not completely available.) So they put the Yankees series in a consistent primetime slot to milk the sport’s most prestigious franchise for maximum exposure, and pushed the west coast teams into relatively late hours to account for audiences on that side of the country.
That approach is stunningly rigid and shortsighted.
Braves outfielder Ronald Acuña Jr. should be one of MLB’s main attractions this October. He is on the short list of most productive outfielders that the league has ever seen through his age-22 season, and Acuña reaches those marks while playing with enviable flair and impossible-to-teach instincts. Marlins right-hander Sixto Sánchez deserves a larger platform, too. His triple-digit fastball velocity is almost unprecedented for a starting pitcher and he complements it with a filthy changeup that Pedro Martínez, an all-time great, eagerly compares to his own. Sixto is even younger than Acuña is.
Another factor that’s been seemingly overlooked by MLB in regards to the young adult demographic that they struggle to connect with: how about giving them something they haven’t seen before?! The Marlins were notoriously absent from the postseason during the last 17 years. Making it here isn’t much of a novelty for the consistent Braves, but the franchise finally snapped a frustrating “drought” of its own, going 19 years in between winning a postseason series. Why waste those storylines just to feed your largest audience more of the same, tired Yankees and Dodgers narratives?
Want to throw some red meat to older viewers? Easy: longtime “face” of the league Derek Jeter happens to be the CEO of the Fish. He’s been willing to grant interviews during local game broadcasts in every season since his ownership group took control of the franchise three years ago. I sense that he’d happily accept a request from MLB/FOX to elaborate on the culture being established in Miami.
Major League Baseball bungled this Division Series schedule so badly that I could easily triple or quadruple the length of this piece. But my main gripes are these:
- The vast majority of Braves and Marlins fans live in states that have been aggressive in re-opening businesses and institutions despite the threat of COVID-19. They’re more likely than average Americans to have responsibilities outside their homes right now, conflicting with 2:08 p.m. ET weekday start times. Cheering along all summer as your team achieves so much but being unable to watch/listen to any of this series live is a unique type of torture.
- Either the Braves or Marlins will be advancing to the NLCS. That is a guarantee. How can MLB expect fans around the world to be emotionally invested in them during the next round when you’ve made their postseason games so inaccessible? (Both teams were relegated to the early afternoon throughout the Wild Card Series, too.)