The playoffs are just around the corner. As such I am giving myself a crash course in what are going to be a very confusing week once the regular season concludes. The main wrinkle with this year’s crammed Wild Card and LDS schedule from the Reds’ standpoint is the home/road format used. As opposed to the normal 2-2-1 format, the LDS will switch to a 2-3 format meaning that the higher seeded team in each matchup will be playing Games 1 and 2 on the road. I know the schedule making nerds at the MLB offices had a daunting challenge of fitting a whole extra Wild Card round into a schedule that was totally not devised for such a thing, but they still seem to find new ways all the time to negate incentives for teams having better regular season records (yea, I am referring to the whole ‘All-Star Game winner gets home field in the World Series).
Not playing the first two games of the LDS at home really is a hindrance to the higher seeds in the playoffs. Lining up your rotation to get your best pitchers beginning the series will have to go on the road for those first two games and could give a team with a better record a situation where they must play in an elimination game as their first home game of the playoffs. Its simple sense that teams play better at home. Of the division leaders in baseball right now, their combined home winning percentage is .603 while road winning percentage is .557. For the Reds in particular, at home they are 43-27 and on the road are 40-29. Backloading the home team with their home field advantage just nearly negates any advantage by adding pressure to the first two road games.
I opine whether due to this curious format, we may see a manager stagger their rotation to save ammunition for the Game 3 at home in the LDS. It may be advantageous for Dusty Baker to consider a 123 of Johnny Cueto, Bronson Arroyo, then Mat Latos. This would be especially true if they go on to play the current #3 seed Giants as the #2 seed as they would if the season ended today. Going to pitcher friendly ATT Park for Games 1 & 2 before coming back to Great American, taking the risk of not using one of your two best pitchers would be mitigated slightly by the environment.
It is a risk either way but one that a team that won more regular season games should not have to plan for. As is always possible for MLB, this postseason could start with a bit of egg on their face if more attention is paid to the farce of a playoff schedule and its effect on a World Series-caliber team as opposed to the action on the field.