We are hearing a lot about the players lacking rhythm early this season. April was rainouts, front-loaded off days in the schedule, and an early trip to California. Buster Olney beat the dying horse in his recent interview with Dave Dombrowski, asking "I'll give you a chance to complain about the weather a little bit. You guys have probably been the team most affected so far this year. All kidding aside, how much of it is a concern for you to get backed up the way that you guys have been so far." The general manager of course minimized the impact, while the rest of the world frets.
A typical regular season is played from April through September. Those six months cover 183 days. With 162 games and the All Star game, there are only 20 days without a game or less than one a week.
The players are professionals. They have played the game for years and experienced off days and rainouts. Baseball is what they do. I am sure many have developed off day routines. I recall the interview with Joe Nathan after game one. When asked about the next day being an off day, he responded that he planned to unpack boxes at his new home. These people have lives, and the best fill their time productively.
But what about the fans? From April through September, the daily game provides a rhythm. Add in spring training and the postseason, and for 8 months we have a pattern to our days and weeks. In March, we can turn the radio on in the afternoon to hear baseball and have hope that spring is coming.
In April, we start to get into the swing of things. If it is a Tuesday or Wednesday, there is a night game. Maybe you make sure dinner is cleaned up by 7 pm so that you see the first pitch. Or perhaps your routine is to eat dinner while watching the game. Maybe you need to wake early for work, so you like to fall asleep with the game on the radio. Or you are a middle school student and make sure your homework is done in time to watch the game. Maybe you deliver pizzas every evening, and you look forward to the game keeping you company. I have never delivered pizzas. What does your car smell like after a month? Is it heavenly or gross? What am I saying, Little Caesars is pickup, not delivery. Sorry, Mr. Ilitch.
Mondays may be that occasional off day, but Thursdays are getaway day so we expect an afternoon game. Maybe part of the rhythm of your summer is a "business" meeting at the ballpark. Fridays and Saturdays are always night games. You do not even think about your entertainment options, you simply plan to watch the game. Then Sunday comes and we know the lineup without looking. The backup catcher will be starting, because Avila caught last night. Don Kelly will be in the lineup (is this his career year, at age 34?). This year Sunday comes and the regulars are already rested.
As we turn to May, Little League is in full swing. You rush home from the local ballpark to catch most of Rod and Mario. You can compare what happened in your game to how the pros play. You go to work the next day. Your colleague who is interested in the Tigers, but not obsessed, asks "who is pitching tonight?" When we have rhythm, we think "Porcello threw last night, he is the 4th starter, that means Smyly tonight". But this season, who knows who starts next.
When fans have rhythm, we know who is hot and who is slumping. We see a left-handed hitter lunge for breaking balls away, and know what two strike pitching he will be seeing. We see an inside fastball to Cabrera and think "home run" before contact. This year the games have been too infrequent for our intuition to develop. An off day will be rare for the rest of the season, and our instincts can return.
It could be worse. Game 3 of the 1911 World Series between the Giants and Athletics was played on October 17. After nearly a week of rain, game 4 was played on October 24. The pundits spent a week debating a collision at third base. While many thought Ty Cobb's rough slides into third were good baseball, in this case Fred Snodgrass clearly intended to harm Home Run Baker when Baker blocked the bag. The practice of blocking third base ended soon after, and one hundred years later we debate blocking home plate.
A suitable ending to the 2014 season would be the Tigers in the World Series, waiting days for decent weather while enduring rainouts, sleetouts, and snowouts.