You can’t watch a game, or even a pitch, without being reminded of the pitch clock. This isn’t a complaint. The Braves-Nationals game Saturday took two hours, 27 minutes. Sunday’s lasted 2:17.
The great Elmore Leonard’s No. 1 rule for writing was to leave out the parts people skip. That’s how baseball in 2023 feels. The sport is leaving out the parts – some of them, anyway – when nothing happened, and anybody who watched a game this century saw tons of nothing.
The average game time in 2021 was 3:11. Average time of the Braves-Nats series – 2:38. What will we do with the half-hour of our lives we’re getting back?
The shift rules – you can’t shift anymore – are OK, though I’m shift-agnostic. The bigger bases, designed to rekindle the concept of base-stealing, have had an effect. Teams averaged 0.51 steals per game in 2022. Teams averaged 0.7 steals over the opening weekend.
Fun fact: Last year’s Orioles stole 95 bases over 162 games; this year’s O’s have stolen 10 over three. Over 162 games, that would make 542 steals. Since 1900, the record for team thefts is 347 – by the (New York) Giants in 1911.
Early reaction to baseball’s changes: I don’t hate any of them. (Rob Manfred will sleep easier knowing MB’s onboard.) But the biggest difference could be the parts – not to sound like Elmore Leonard, who wrote like no one else – we haven’t yet noticed.
The Braves and Nats just played three times. Ten Braves-Nats games remain. A year ago, there’d have been 16 left. The 2021 Braves won 88 games, 14 against Washington. Last year’s Braves won 101, another 14 versus the #Natitude crew. The Braves cannot beat the Nats 14 times in 2023. The best they can do is 12-1.
In 2021, the National League East was the only division the Braves could have won, which was why general manager Alex Anthopoulos was a deadline buyer – of four famous outfielders – as opposed to a seller. The only other NL East club to finish above .500 was Philadelphia, and not by much. The Phillies were 82-80.
The same division produced three playoff qualifiers last year. The Braves and Mets each won 101; the Phillies won 87. With so much winning, somebody had to do the losing. The Marlins were 69-93, the Nats an MLB-worst 55-107. Miami was 19-38 against the Braves, Mets and Phillies. Washington was 13-44.
The newfangled balanced schedule pares intra-division games from 76 to 52. For the Braves, it means 12 fewer dates against the Mets and Phillies, who are good; it also means 12 fewer against the Fish and Nats, who aren’t. Because a team now must face each of the other 29 clubs, plenty of games against substandard opposition will remain. There won’t be as many with the same two losers.
Knowing they’d have 12 series – two per regular-season month – that bore get-well potential was a great comfort. Some comfort will be missing this year.
The Braves will face the Marlins 13 times before the Fourth of July. The clubs won’t meet again until Sept. 15. The Braves have 10 games left against Washington. Seven will come over the season’s final 10 days. From April 2 through Sept. 21, the Braves and Nats will meet three times. That’s different.
If you’re a fan of competition, it’s a good sort of difference. If you’re a Braves’ fan, it probably isn’t. The good news is that the Braves can beat anybody anywhere. The better news is that beating someone – or losing to anyone – shouldn’t take as long as in years past.
Who knows? This might be the summer when we, like Cousin Doris in Philip Roth’s “Goodbye, Columbus,” get around to reading “War and Peace.”
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