mostly haikus by nick krefting

the 3 game series

In Blog on September 9, 2010 at 8:13 am

Here is something I’ve thought about a lot for some reason.

I love baseball, but I’m not a gigantic baseball fanatic.  I follow my Yankees generally, watch them when they’re on the national channels, but I’m not too big into stats or even what’s going on around the MLB.  That’s what my friends are for.  There are many aspects of baseball in general that I really enjoy: its slow pace, the fairness of each team having “possession” for exactly the same amount of outs, the inherent satisfaction of the perfectly placed line drive.  But there is one thing that is not inherent to the game that I find really intriguing – the MLB’s standard of organizing each team’s season into 3-game series.

Yeah, there are 2-gamers and 4-gamers, but the majority are 3-game series.  I assume this decision was made partly for logistical reasons – the season is really long, and if teams had to travel to a new city more often than they do, player burnout would be pretty intense by the postseason.  But I suspect there is something else behind the MLB’s choice to make 3 games the standard.

Most basically, a team can “win” a 3-game series. This makes every series seem much more important than just a one-off game, or even a 2-game series that can be split 1-1.  The sporting press always has a little something extra to write about now.

Further than that, every single 3rd game is interesting.  Two teams are 1-1 heading into the 3rd game.  Everyone knows sports fans and sports writers love to speculate, and now they get to discuss the ramifications of this team or the other winning the series. What effect will it have on the manager, or the starting pitcher, or the fans, or even the season at large, if Kansas City were to take the series from the Red Sox 2-1?  That 3rd game is ripe for rumination. And that happens every three games for every team. Multiply that by the 15 series that are going on at any given time in baseball, and that’s a lot of bar talk.

But wait, what if a team is heading into game 3 leading the series 2-0?  The outcome of game 3 is still exciting, though for a slightly different reason.  Will the Rays sweep the series? What would that momentum mean for their season? Or, if they fail to sweep, their streak is over.  This becomes a David and Goliath discussion, no matter the teams involved – the giant will crush poor David 3-0, or David will rise up and block a sweep.

No matter the outcome, a series can always be talked about as a complete unit with an arc and a noteworthy conclusion.  A great comeback victory is made better if it stops a series sweep, and made legendary if that momentum leads the come-from-behind team to turn their season around and win their division.

It’s the little victories in baseball. One blow-out win means nothing, especially if it leads to no change in the team’s day-to-day play. But battle and scrape to win enough series 2-1, and eventually, you’ve got yourself a solid season. To me, the 3-game series is the perfect encapsulation of the patience and the slow drama of baseball.

(ed: My buddy recently made a post that in certain ways ties into my way of thinking of this. Neither of us knew the other was writing these things.)

  1. Nice point. The three-game series also emphasizes another aspect of baseball I love: that you can’t throw your star pitcher every night. In football, each game is “our best team vs. your best team.” Same in basketball. With baseball’s 3-game series, you’ll probably get the team’s ace one night, but the contest is “our team over time vs. your team over time.”

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