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Tuesday, Sept. 28, 2010
Scheduling quirks taking some excitement away from pennant races
Excitement and interest in Major League Baseball is at a fevered pitch as the remaining pennant races go down to the wire.
The MLB will ride that wave into the postseason and enjoy the packed houses (well, except in Tampa Bay) and revenue that comes from increased interest.
Japanese baseball could set itself up for a similar situation. If only the NPB would get out of its own way.
While the MLB will head into the postseason with a head of steam from an exciting finish, the NPB will end the regular season with a whimper.
The reason being that, despite the same thing happening year after year, Japanese baseball refuses to address the scheduling problems it faces in the final weeks of the season.
The Central League, for instance, has its top three teams, the first-place Chunichi Dragons, Hanshin Tigers and Yomiuri Giants all separated by 2 1/2 games. That would be the recipe for a photo finish . . . if they didn't end their seasons on three separate days.
The Dragons wrap things up on Oct. 2, the Tigers on Oct. 7 and the Giants on Oct. 8. Not to mention that while Chunichi has one game remaining on its schedule, the Tigers have nine and the Giants have six.
Chunichi plays its only game of the week on Saturday and could potentially be eliminated from the race for first place without ever stepping on the field. Yomiuri could find itself in a similar position.
So instead of having meaningful, revenue-generating, games taking place in three major cities, if things play out the right way, the games down the stretch may end up meaning little to nothing.
Which is why it's time Japanese baseball works out a way for every team to end the season on the same day and keep the races churning until the last possible minute.
At the root of the problem is the way the NPB makes up postponed games. When a game is rained out or otherwise called off, it's made up after the scheduled end of the regular season. That causes uneven finishes and zaps the energy out of the buildup to the climax series. What the NPB should do is find a way to make up those games during the season.
One way would be to play the occasional doubleheader as is done in the majors, which by the way manages to get 30 teams to end the season at the same time.
What's so wrong with playing two after a rainout, or better yet, why not schedule day-nighters on holidays? It gets a few games out of the way and think about what a treat it would be for families.
Another idea is to play games on Mondays, which is usually an off day for the entire league. The NPB can either eliminate the weekly day off, or play a four-game schedule (two in the CL and two in the Pacific League) on Mondays, giving four teams the day off on a rotating basis.
Anything to shave some time off the schedule and have every team play game No. 144 on the same day.
Looking at the race in the CL and the race for third place in the PL, where Hokkaido Nippon Ham leads Chiba Lotte by a half-game but has two fewer games remaining, wouldn't it be better for the finish line to be the same for everybody?
The races would be so much more exciting and interesting if every team were still clawing and scratching for each win down the stretch toward a common endpoint.
It would be good for the fans, build excitement, generate revenue, and be a natural lead into the postseason.
It's a problem Japanese baseball needs to address.
Major League Baseball is capturing more and more of the the attention of the Japanese public.
In Japan, fixing a broken schedule can be step one toward building a riveting product at home and turning the attention of those fans back to the NPB.