The schedule: if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it

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I hate feeling like an old man. I hate arguing for the status quo. But lately I feel sort of obligated to, at least when it comes to baseball’s schedule.

Some rainouts, cancelled games, fatigued players and an offhand comment or two by Rob Manfred have led much of the baseball commentariat to argue for radical changes to the schedule lately. No fewer than three ESPN pundits — Buster Olney, Jayson Stark and Jerry Crasnick — have written columns in favor of going back to a 154-game schedule in the past couple of weeks. It’s almost as if there was a central editorial directive from ESPN about that. Heck, maybe there was.

Not to be outdone, today Ken Rosenthal argues in favor of a split schedule. Specifically:

* The AL and NL teams with the best overall records in each half would qualify for at least the wild-card game.

* The division winners after 162 games would qualify for the Division Series.

* If either wild-card qualifier won its division, the team with the next-best record over 162 games would go to the wild-card game.

The idea: to create, in effect, two pennant races. Or, to use Rosenthal’s words, “creating September-like urgency throughout the season and giving teams that stink in the first half the chance to start anew in the second.”

An interesting idea in the abstract — any idea can be interesting in the abstract, and discussing it does no harm — but it’s one that is not at all needed. It’s a solution in search of a problem, really.

Now, to be sure, Rosenthal attempts to identify problems this would solve, but his arguments are not convincing. He cites Bud Selig’s old quote about many teams not having “hope and faith,” and arguing that this would give more of that to more teams, but it’s a reference taken way, way out of context. Selig offered those words in service of a disingenuous argument about competitive imbalance well over a decade ago, at a time when the owners were still trying to impose a salary cap. Today we have some pretty crazy parity and even the owners have given up that old line about teams not having hope.

Mostly, though, his argument is not about solving any problems, it’s about change for the sake of change.  He cites how injuries can derail a team early, but that’s been a part of the game forever, not some new problem that needs to be solved. He notes that you could have two trade deadlines and two pennant races and how you could add weight to the games currently played. That’s all true, probably, but is it anything people are clamoring for? Should the mindset with respect to the structure of the game be “if we can do it we should try it!” or should it be “we should change it only when its clearly desirable and necessary?”

I’m not some hardcore purist who thinks that the game should be forever the same, but I do think that fundamental changes to the game’s structure should only be instituted if and only if it solves a clear problem or if it promises a truly compelling improvement. In this case — and in the case of ESPN’s recent fixation on a 154-game schedule –I see neither. What it does is sacrifice what has been baseball’s central feature since the game began– the summer-long pennant race — and chucks it because, hey, more is better.

Tweak here and there and experiment with this and that all you want. I won’t mind. But if you’re going to radically change the very essence of the game, you had better come with something stronger than “this could be neat.”

Braves sweep Mets, take 2-game lead in East with 3 remaining

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ATLANTA — Dansby Swanson and Matt Olson homered for the third straight game, Travis d'Arnaud hit a go-ahead two-run single in the third inning, and Atlanta Braves beat the New York Mets 5-3, completing a three-game sweep of their NL East rival and taking a two-game lead in the division with three games to play.

The defending World Series champion Braves have been chasing the Mets the entire season. In the final series of the season, any combination of one Atlanta win or one Mets loss would give the Braves their fifth straight division title.

New York plays its final three games of the season against worst-in-the-majors Washington. Atlanta closed out the regular season with a three-game set in Miami. Should the season end Wednesday in a tie, Atlanta would win the division after claiming the season series 10-9 with Sunday’s victory.

The Braves won five of the last six games in the series, outscoring the Mets 42-19 over that stretch. New York had a 10 1/2-game lead on June 1 but now is the lower in the standings than at any point this season.

It was a lost weekend for New York, which came to Atlanta hoping to clinch its first division title since 2015. Instead, aces Jacob deGrom and Max Scherzer lost Friday and Saturday before 15-game winner Chris Bassitt lasted just 2 2/3 innings on Sunday.

Swanson took Bassitt deep to right-center in the first with his 25th homer, and Atlanta took charge with a three-run third. Bassitt (15-9) issued a bases-loaded walk to Olson before d’Arnaud delivered a single up the middle to score Ronald Acuna Jr. and Austin Riley for a 4-3 lead. That chased Bassitt, who was charged with four runs, three hits and three walks.

Olson connected for his 33rd homer to make it 5-3 leading off the sixth, his 410-foot shot landing in the seats in right-center. Olson, in his first year with Atlanta, surpassed 100 RBIs for the second straight season.

Charlie Morton stranded runners on first and second in the first, but he gave up Daniel Vogelbach‘s 18th homer that tied it at 1 in the second. The righty struck out Francisco Lindor with runners on first and second to end the threat.

Jeff McNeil went deep off Morton in the third and Vogelbach followed with an RBI single to put the Mets up 3-1. Morton entered the game having allowed 28 homers, sixth-most in the NL.

Morton scuffled throughout his start, giving up three runs and nine hits in 4 1/3 innings as the 38-year-old made his first start since signing a $20 million, one-year contract to remain with Atlanta next season.

Dylan Lee (5-1) relieved Morton and pitched 1 1/3 innings, leaving after a walk to Brandon Nimmo with two outs in the sixth. Collin McHugh entered and struck out Francisco Lindor.

Raisel Iglesias faced four batters in the seventh, A.J. Minter faced the minimum in the eighth and closer Kenley Jansen converted his third save of the series with a clean ninth.

Jansen leads the NL with 40 saves in 47 chances.

The Braves’ bullpen, which posted a 1.70 ERA last month, pitched 8 2/3 scoreless innings the last two nights.

BIG NUMBERS

Atlanta leads the NL with 241 homers. And the Braves have their first 100-victory season since 2003.

TWO, DARN HOT

McNeil went 3 for 5 and has multiple hits in five straight games. His average is .326, one point behind the Dodgers’ Freddie Freeman for the NL batting title. In 23 career games at Truist Park, McNeil is hitting .395 with 12 runs, nine doubles, two homers, seven RBIs and four walks. … Jansen tied Hall of Famer Dennis Eckersley for eighth place on the career list with 389. He’s also is the 10th closer to have four different seasons with at least 40 saves.

TRAINER’S ROOM

Mets All-Star RF Starling Marte (right middle finger fracture) has yet to begin swinging or throwing. … Braves 2B Ozzie Albies (broken right pinky finger) is still wearing a cast. … Braves RHP Spencer Strider still has not thrown as he gets treatment on a sore left oblique.

ATTENDANCE

The Braves drew 42,713 in their regular season finale, the club’s 42nd sellout of the season. Overall. that’s 3,129,931 for the season – and the most tickets sold since 2000. In 2019, the team’s last full season before the COVID-19 pandemic, Atlanta drew 2,655,100.

UP NEXT

Mets: RHP Carlos Carrasco (15-7, 3.95 ERA) will face Nationals RHP Cory Abbott (0-4, 5.11).

Braves: RHP Bryce Elder (2-3, 2.76 ERA) will face Marlins LHP Jesus Luzardo (3-7, 3.53).