Marlins Season Resume Could Lead To MLB Playoff Disaster Scenario
By: Anthony Studnicka
The Miami Marlins took the field yesterday for the first time since their season-opening series that concluded on July 26. While the Marlins were victorious and defeated the Baltimore Orioles 4-0, it was not the same roster that began their season just over a week ago with a 2-1 record.
The Marlins placed 13 players on their injured list before their Tuesday night game, including eight of their relief pitchers from their opening day roster.
As a response, the Marlins had to make a large roster turnover of moves, outlined in their Twitter post and depicted below.
Now, despite having a completely renewed roster, the Marlins are currently sitting in first place in the National League East. While many people did not expect the Marlins to be one of the top teams in the league this season, as they finished the 2019 season as the worst team in the National League, nothing is impossible, especially in a time of continual uncertainty. To take it one step further, It would not be the first time a baseball team picked by many columnists to finish towards the bottom of their division, who (could) play their foreseeable future in Florida compiled a team of waiver adds, free agents, and minor league call-ups to compete for the division. (See photo).
On a more serious note, the Marlins currently own a 3-1 record (.750), while the Braves are 8-4 (.667). This may seem problematic because the Marlins have played 4 games, while the Braves have played 12. While the MLB has stated that they are intending to make up all postponed games later in the season via doubleheaders and eliminating off-days, this may not be entirely feasible. To begin, let’s discuss the obvious. It takes two teams to play a baseball game. While the Marlins appear at this time to have gotten over the hump of their COVID-19 outbreak, this may not last the remainder of the season for their team, or their opponents. Other teams, like most notably the St. Louis Cardinals, have also experienced outbreaks within their organization. It is reasonably foreseeable that the Marlins, or some of their opponents, may experience a COVID-19 related shutdown or temporary season postponement, further adding to the disparity of games played amongst the Marlins and their divisional rivals.
In a situation like this, there is precedent that indicates that winning percentage may become of the utmost importance. During 1981 when the MLB strike occurred, one team played as many as 111 games, while some teams only completed 103. And according to Joel Sherman of the New York Post, if it is not possible for teams to complete the same number of games this season, the MLB is prepared to determine the postseason based on winning percentage, just as they did in 1981.
Analyzing this from a mathematical perspective illuminates the issues. In the 2020 season that is slated to consist of 60 games for each team, the Braves are already 20% of the way through the year. The Marlins are just 6.66% underway. Scheduling the Marlins to complete the same amount of games as the Braves over the course of the remaining regular season, which is set to conclude on September 27, would mean that Marlins must play 56 games in the next 53 days.
The root of this issue stems back to competitive balance. MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred continues to hold the stance that baseball will continue to be played unless the competitive integrity is compromised.
Therefore, one may wonder what decimates competitive integrity?
Apparently, a team placing 13 players on the injured list in one day, including two-thirds of their opening day bullpen, does not impede competitive integrity. While the sample size is small, as the Marlins have only played one game with their newly formed roster, Commissioner Manfred does have the fact that the Marlins won this game working in his favor. Before relying on this, remember the Marlins did beat the Baltimore Orioles, who were touted by many sports analysts prior to the season to also be one of the worst teams in the league.
Additionally, viewing this from the alternative and fantasizing this current Marlins team going on a winning streak, and becoming one of the hottest teams in baseball, presents issues. What happens in the coming weeks if the Marlins endure a second COVID-19 outbreak, and now fall even further behind in their completion of the season. While the case for using winning percentage based on the precedent of the 1981 season has already been made, the adversity in this potential scenario seems far worse. In 1981, the Giants who played 111 games completed 68.5% of their season, while the Cardinals and Pirates only played 63.5%. Notably, these were the two extremes, with most teams falling in between this narrow 5% difference. If another outbreak occurs for the Marlins, who are already over 13% behind their division-foe, who is to say this number won’t double? The Marlins could realistically find themselves completing nearly 30% fewer games during the 2020 regular season than the Braves, and other teams in the National League. If this occurs, would the Marlins still have a viable argument to deserve a playoff spot?
These potential scenarios don’t even take into account the newly created MLB rule that teams will play two 7-inning games during doubleheaders, instead of the regular two 9-inning games. At what point if the Marlins need to frequently schedule doubleheaders do these condensed games impede competitive integrity? One would have to assume at some point taking into account the differing strategy involved with a 7 inning games compared to one of 9 innings, especially with pitching usage, may lead to competitive advantages or disadvantages for teams based on their frequency of playing in the adjusted format.
The issues surrounding the MLB season continue to grow, and if the Marlins continue to play well as they have in their first few games, it may lead to this disaster scenario. However, this concern may become moot if the Marlins fall back into place as they were projected to, as one of the bottom ranking teams in the league. In this crazy year the world has seen during 2020, why not root for chaos? Go Marlins.
Anthony is a third-year student at Arizona State University pursuing a J.D. and a Master of Sports Law & Business. He is the creator of Long Run Sports.
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