SCOTTSDALE, Arizona -- As I watched most of Friday night's 6-6 Cubs/Astros 10-inning tie game, I wondered, "Why do they even play these games?"
I realize that major-league baseball players thrive on routine, playing every day for six (well, seven if you include spring training) months, with just the occasional day off and a refresher break for most of them in midsummer.
Wouldn't the Cubs have better served their players by flying to Chicago after Thursday's game? Many of the players are new to the Cubs; they could have spent a couple of days getting settled in the homes or apartments where they'll live while playing there this summer, then headed to Pittsburgh on Sunday for Opening Day.
Look at that boxscore link. Attendance was listed as 11,820. At least half of those came disguised as empty seats; there couldn't have been much more than 5,000 in Minute Maid Park for this game, and most of them had left by the time the Astros tied the game up in the bottom of the eighth.
It's not just this game -- for which tickets, incidentally, were sold at approximately the price of Houston's lowest regular-season tier, still far higher than any spring-training game in Arizona or Florida -- that didn't draw. The Reds and Diamondbacks played at Chase Field in front of 14,839; the Brewers and White Sox at Miller Park drew 11,818. The incongruity of seeing "Opening Day" stenciled onto the field behind home plate in Houston added to the weirdness of this game. The teams can't be making any money off these games; those figures probably are pretty close to their season-ticket base numbers (I'm assuming these teams make their STH buy these games, though I do not know that for certain).
Some teams do draw for these games; the Dodgers and Angels played in front of 34,157 at Dodger Stadium (even that's 20,000 below capacity) and the Athletics and Giants drew a sellout of 42,808 in San Francisco. But both of those matchups are long-standing preseason series that predate interleague play.
In my view, either the Cubs should stay in Arizona for an extra game or two at the end of spring training, then go directly to their Opening Day site. There used to be more Cactus League teams that did this; this year, it was just the Indians and Royals, playing in front of a decent-sized house at Surprise of 6,865.
As for the Cubs and Astros, who took three hours and 49 minutes (and it seemed longer) to complete their decisionless match, they combined to have 16 pitchers give up 17 hits, nine walks and two home runs, one by the Cubs' Dioner Navarro, one by former Cubs prospect and Houston infielder Marwin Gonzalez. There were even two pitchers named Chapman, Kevin of the Astros (who gave up Navarro's homer) and Jaye of the Cubs, who threw a scoreless 10th inning (though nearly losing the game when he gave up a fly ball to Houston's Trevor Crowe that was caught at the base of the wall by Nate Schierholtz).
Edwin Jackson, who will start the Cubs' second game of the season next Wednesday in Pittsburgh, wasn't very good; he gave up five of the six runs and even the outs he recorded were hit hard. Houston ranked third among all spring-training teams in home runs, and they continued to pound the ball in this exhibition contest. (No, I do not expect that to continue when the actual season begins.)