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The Cubs’ schedule nightmare: 30 games in 30 days

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Why the Collective Bargaining Agreement hasn’t solved baseball’s scheduling woes.

MLB: Chicago Cubs at Washington Nationals
The way too familiar Skittles tarp in Washington D.C.
Amber Searls-USA TODAY Sports

Over the last week there has been a lot of discussion of the weather and I’ll admit I learned more about hurricanes and their trajectory than I ever thought I would from a baseball site. However, the bigger problem with the Cubs‘ schedule wasn’t a hurricane or even the chance of rain. The biggest problem is how did the Cubs wind up with a September schedule that had them scheduled to play 30 games in 30 days in the first place?

The answer is a lot more complicated than you’d think.

Scheduling Shenanigans

Full disclosure, when I originally pitched this article to Al I wanted to look at the longest stretches of games in 2018 and prove that the Cubs had it uniquely bad. Then I immediately began finding pieces like this that reminded me exactly how terrible scheduling has been in the past (emphasis mine):

It will be Beatles Night in Chicago when the Twins and White Sox make up Wednesday’s rainout as part of an Aug. 21 doubleheader, and that’s appropriate. Both teams have a lot of hard day’s nights ahead of them.

For Minnesota, it means a stretch of 41 days, from Aug. 1 to Sept. 10, will be packed with 40 scheduled games. And Chicago has it even worse; adding a makeup game gives them 34 games in a stretch of 34 days, and a grueling 57 in 59.

Yikes.

Now it’s worth noting that scheduling issues like the one above are precisely why the current collective bargaining agreement made significant changes to the 2018 schedule. So let’s turn to that now.

The Collective Bargaining Agreement

This season included new rules for the timing of the games that were designed to ensure players got enough time off. This included extra off days, limitations on night games on getaway days, and regulations about the number of games played in a row.

Clearly something has gone wrong with those rules.

Let’s take a look at some of the language of the CBA below before looking at how they went off the rails for the Cubs in September. All of the scheduling language is in Article V. The days in a row provision is in Article V C (12):

No Club shall be scheduled, or rescheduled if practicable, to play more than twenty consecutive dates without an open day. A rained-out game may be rescheduled to an open date in the same series, or to an open date at the end of the same series, if: (a) the open date is a road off-day for the visiting Club, and (b) the rescheduling does not result in the home team playing more than twenty four consecutive dates without an open day.

Let’s put aside that there seems to be some disagreement as to what constitutes an open day. I think the Cubs would rightly argue that needing to show up to work, prepare, dress for the game and wait at the ballpark for hours isn’t it. So how did the Cubs wind up being scheduled for 30 games in 30 days? Is it a fluke or an inevitability with the current schedule? Most importantly, can anything be done to prevent this from happening again?

The Weather

This April it felt like every other baseball game was postponed or delayed. That wasn’t just my imagination. In April a record number of games were postponed due to weather.

As much of the country has dealt with extreme, unpredictable and outright bizarre weather this April, MLB games keep getting postponed.

Some teams, such as the Twins and White Sox, missed three days straight of baseball due to unplayable conditions.

The Tigers lead the pack with six postponements, while the Cubs sit just behind with five games postponed.

According to The Associated Press, the total for this season “matched 2007 for the most weather-related postponements through April since Major League Baseball started keeping records in 1986.” While there were 26 postponements through April in 2007, one was caused by the death of St. Louis pitcher Josh Hancock.

With just under two weeks still to go this month, the number is likely to rise.

Those games got pushed to later in the summer, creating scheduling difficulties for a lot of teams. The recent bout of heavy rain on the East Coast led to more postponements. In the Cubs case it also meant they lost two off-days.

The Cubs were originally scheduled to have days off on August 30 and September 13. Not only did they wind up with make-up games on both off days, but they were also both one-off trips to away sites. On August 30 they flew from Chicago to Atlanta, played a game and then flew to Philadelphia. September 13 was even worse, interrupting a home stand with a trip to Washington, D.C. to make up a game with the Nationals.

Solutions?

If all of this was just a fluke I’d probably just grumble a bit and be done with it, but there are some structural realities of the current baseball schedule that make this more than a fluke. Ironically, things were supposed to be better in 2018. The season started earlier and the All-Star Break was lengthened to provide more time off. However, it turned out starting the season earlier complicated the weather problem. That coupled with the 162-game schedule and year-round interleague play leave the Cubs in the same scheduling mess other teams have experienced in the past.

The worst part is that there probably are not solutions in the current CBA. The 2019 and 2020 seasons will likely see similar issues for teams (although hopefully the Cubs will dodge that bullet in the future). Any scheduling fix is going to have to address the number of games played and who each team is scheduled against. Adding realignment and the number of games to a growing list of player grievances is going to make the 2021 CBA negotiating period even more difficult.