Despite the loss, the Twins have now received at least a point in every game so far during the young season.
After a rule change was implemented in the shortened 2020 season to place a runner on second base to start extra innings, the MLB again decided to try and shorten games in 2021.
MLB commissioner Rob Manfred is on record stating the positives from this new rule, saying, “I think it’s really good from a safety and health perspective that keeps us from putting players in situations where they’re out there too long or in positions they’re not used to playing.”
Similar to hockey, the MLB wasn’t a big proponent of games continuing into countless overtimes. In the NHL, games are decided by a five-minute, sudden-death overtime, and if necessary, a shootout to decide the winner. Additionally, the losing teams are rewarded for their neck-and-neck battles with a point, just for reaching overtime.
Which is why the Twins’ streak is all the more impressive. They now lead the AL Central with a 5-0-3 record, and are atop the AL with 13 points.
Houston and Los Angeles each have 6 wins, but both of their losses came in regulation, respectfully, which means each team has a total of 12 points in the AL standings.
Hm? What’s that?
The MLB isn’t giving teams additional points for bringing games to overtime with the new extra innings rules?
So much for the Twins being competitive to get games into extra innings in the first place.
For 2020, the new rule with a runner starting on second base in the extra frame made sense. Due to unforeseen circumstances with Covid-19, it was especially important for players to limit their time on the field and in close contact with other people.
But in 2021, baseball has the opportunity and is able to complete a full 162-game season. Why the strong push to continue on with the new rule?
There is a case to be made regarding the games indeed being faster under the new rule. First, a look at the traditional way of doing things. Per FanGraphs, only 208 games (8.6%) from the full 2019 regular season went to extra innings, and of those games, 73% ended in the 10th or 11th inning.
Those extra innings games also added roughly half an hour to the game time, on average. If the 208 extra innings games from 2019 were evenly distributed amongst all 30 MLB teams, teams would have played an extra seven hours’ worth of baseball throughout the course of the regular season.
By comparison, there were 44 extra-inning games in the shortened 2020 season. 40 of those (90.9%) ended in the 10th or 11th inning.
So the new rule does show promise, sure, but it also remains to be seen how much of a change is shown with a similar sample size after this season ends.
The point to be made though (and not as a grumpy Twins fan having lost 3 extra innings games in 8 tries so far this season), is the fact that baseball doesn’t have any tiebreakers. It doesn’t matter how many times you beat the rival you finished with the same record as to finish out the season; it doesn’t matter how you did in divisional games. There will be, under current rules, a play-in game, a game 163, or a one-game playoff for a divisional title.
That’s not to say a Game 163 isn’t exciting. It’s incredibly entertaining. But it’s another day that you have to play baseball – in most cases, consecutively.
The NFL has tiebreakers to prevent extra games, and effectively, injuries. In fact, they have so many tiebreakers that it’s almost ridiculous. The NHL also has tiebreakers set in place, even with the points given for an overtime loss.
If you’re the Twins right now, it doesn’t matter if you lost in the 10th inning, or the 19th inning. It’s still a loss, and you get nothing to show for it the rest of the season.
So what’s the point of trying to win once the game gets to sudden death? In the NHL, there’s a metric for this called ROW (Regulation + Overtime Wins). Think of it as a second win total only used for tiebreaker situations. If two teams tie at the end of the regular season with the same amount of points, the team with the better ROW gets the nod into the playoffs. As such, teams are rewarded for going into overtime, but are even more rewarded from winning those games.
The baseball season is a slog, no matter how much the guys running the show decide to add pitch clocks, runners on second base in the tenth inning, or whatever other time-saving rules get thought of in the future. There’s 162 games with almost no days off, and whatever off days you have are susceptible to makeup games. In other sports like basketball and hockey, back-to-back games make teams incredibly sluggish on the latter half.
So why not reward the teams that are able to consistently play hard and reach the 10th throughout the season?
It’s alright to be a historical purist and to want the game of baseball to continue on the same way as it has been for the last 100 years. But if rules are going to change, I’d rather watch a team that went 90-72 and lost ten extra-inning games than a team that went 90-72 and was less competitive in their losses.
(Photo Credit: J.P. Crawford, The Canadian Press)