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MLB’s schedule rules put the Cubs at a real competitive disadvantage this weekend

The schedule-makers did the Cubs no favors this year, and especially in this situation.

The Cubs fly United Airlines charters
Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Just last week, the Cubs had to endure another rainout because the Braves wouldn’t schedule a getaway-day game in the afternoon (apparently because schools are still in session — they’ve got several afternoon getaway-day games later in the year). The Cubs weren’t happy about that:

The Cubs are likely even less happy about this weekend’s schedule. Sunday night, the Cubs will host the Giants in ESPN’s Sunday Night Baseball showcase game. That game begins at 7:05 p.m. CT.

The next day, the Cubs will play the Pirates in Pittsburgh, in a game scheduled to begin at 12:35 p.m. CT. That’s a 17½ hour span in which to:

  • Play the Giants at night at home
  • Get packed up and fly to Pittsburgh
  • Try to get some sleep, and
  • Be ready to play an afternoon game

This doesn’t seem optimal. However, it’s permitted by section 9(a) of the scheduling section of the MLB/MLBPA collective-bargaining agreement. Teams can schedule games this way if:

the in-flight time for the Club playing the prior evening is 1 1/2 hours or less and the day game is on a holiday or is a home opener

The flight time between Chicago and Pittsburgh is about an hour and 15 minutes, and next Monday is Memorial Day, so the Pirates are permitted to schedule an afternoon game. This comes under the category, in my view, of: “Just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should do that thing.”

An MLB spokesman told me that on holidays, “daytime baseball is a significant tradition that fans enjoy.” Which is generally true... except for fans watching the four night games that are scheduled for Memorial Day this year.

The best-case scenario for the Cubs would have them getting into their Pittsburgh hotel at around 3 a.m. Eastern time, just 10½ hours before game time. And that’s if the Sunday game ends by around 10 p.m., no sure thing these days. Generally, it takes between two and three hours from the last out of a game to wheels-up on the flight to the next city for a baseball team on getaway day, depending on traffic and the distance from the stadium to the airport. There probably won’t be much traffic to O’Hare (which is only 12 miles from Wrigley Field) late Sunday night, so that time will likely be closer to two hours than three. Wheels up at midnight (1 a.m. ET), an hour-plus flight, on the ground at Pittsburgh at approximately 2:15 a.m., then the drive to their hotel gets them there around 3 a.m.

But again, that’s the best-case scenario. What if there’s a rain delay Sunday? Or the game goes into extra innings? Then the Cubs are looking at arriving at their hotel in Pittsburgh when the sun’s coming up on Monday, and possibly getting only a couple hours sleep before they have to report to PNC Park. Granted, whoever’s going to be the starting pitcher for Monday’s game (as of now, that’s Tyler Chatwood) will fly ahead to Pittsburgh on Sunday to get a good night’s rest, but the rest of the team is likely to be exhausted.

Meanwhile, the Pirates are home on Sunday, playing an afternoon game against the Cardinals, so they can get a good night’s sleep in their own beds.

All this would seem to give a big competitive advantage to the Pirates.

MLB shouldn’t permit this sort of thing, holiday or not. Teams that play Sunday Night Baseball games should either be given Monday off, or have a night game scheduled the following day. The Giants, who face the Cubs in that Sunday night affair, do play on Monday — at night, in Denver against the Rockies, so not only do they have a night game on the following day, but they pick up an hour flying west.

This kind of thing is allowed by the CBA. That doesn’t mean MLB should force the Cubs into a situation where they’re likely at a real competitive disadvantage.