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This year’s MLB postseason games are dragging

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It’s partly the extra commercials — but not entirely.

Rick Scuteri-USA TODAY Sports

If you think this year’s MLB postseason games are running longer than ever, you’re not wrong.

There have been 17 nine-inning postseason games so far this month (I’ve excluded the 13-inning Rays/Red Sox Game 3 from this calcuation).

The average length of the 17 games thus far is 3:40.

Now, there’s a caveat. In the postseason, games have an extra 50 seconds of commercials per inning, 2 minutes 55 seconds, up from 2:05 for a regular season game. Just two of the 17 games required a bottom of the ninth inning, so that’s basically an average of just over 17 inning breaks that had those extra 50 seconds, or a bit more than an additional 14 minutes per game to squeeze in the extra cash for MLB’s TV partners.

Take that away from the 3:40 average length and that’s 3:26 — which is still 15 minutes more than the average length of a 2021 game, which, per baseball-reference.com, was 3:11, the longest ever.

Here are the game times for the 17 nine-inning postseason games played this October, through Tuesday.

Lengths of 2021 MLB postseason games

Game Length
Game Length
NL Wild Card Game 4:15
AL Wild Card Game 3:13
Rays/Red Sox Game 1 3:06
Rays/Red Sox Game 2 3:56
Rays/Red Sox Game 4 3:25
Astros/White Sox Game 1 3:34
Astros/White Sox Game 2 3:52
Astros/White Sox Game 3 4:27
Astros/White Sox Game 4 4:32
Braves/Brewers Game 1 3:00
Braves/Brewers Game 2 3:23
Braves/Brewers Game 3 3:20
Braves/Brewers Game 4 3:53
Dodgers/Giants Game 1 2:39
Dodgers/Giants Game 2 3:27
Dodgers/Giants Game 3 3:08
Dodgers/Giants Game 4 3:38

All but one of the games ran three hours or longer — and that one is an exception to just about any game these days. A 2:39 game in the postseason is pretty rare. Before this year’s Dodgers/Giants Game 1, the last postseason game to run that short was Game 2 of a Dodgers/Braves division series in 2018, a similar low-scoring shutout. Further comparison point: Of 142 nine-inning Cubs games in 2021, just five were 2:39 or shorter.

Here’s how MLB game lengths have been slowly increasing. The 3:11 average for this year’s regular season games was the longest ever:

Beyond the extra commercials, I suppose players, coaches and managers would argue that since the stakes of these games are much higher, that it should be understood that players should be permitted a bit more time to get themselves set for pitching and batting. To some extent I’d agree with that, but these games appear to be taking that to an extreme. The mid-inning pitching changes aren’t helping, and the three-batter rule does almost nothing to increase pace of play, as noted in this 2020 article by Cliff Corcoran in The Athletic in analyzing pitcher appearances in 2019:

... while there were 2,162 pitching appearances that lasted fewer than three batters in 2019, 1,471 of them concluded with the end of an inning or the end of the game. That leaves just 691 appearances that the three-batter minimum would have extended, and that’s before searching that sample for outings that ended in injury and thus also would have been exempt from the rule.

Over the course of the 2,429 major-league games played in 2019, those 691 pitching appearances work out to just one every 3 1/2 games. If, in every case, the new rule eliminated the mid-inning pitching change entirely, it would have made the average time of a major-league game in 2019 (drumroll, please) … 34 seconds shorter.

Thirty. Four. Seconds.

I don’t have data for 2021 but I can’t imagine it’s much different. All of Rob Manfred’s attempts to improve pace of play — the automatic intentional walk, limiting of mound visits and the three-batter rule — snip literally seconds off game time.

Which is why I come back, as always, to the pitch clock. That is the single biggest way to speed up pace of play. Players have resisted this change, but a pitch clock is now being used in most of the minor leagues and will be tested out in the Arizona Fall League, which begins play this afternoon.

Most likely, a pitch clock will be part of the MLB/MLBPA collective-bargaining negotiations this fall. I hope they institute it. I love baseball, but these dragged-out postseason games aren’t good for the sport. Some might say, “It’s more baseball!” But it really isn’t: It’s the same amount of baseball (nine innings), only longer.

I hope the pitch clock is instituted in Major League Baseball for the 2022 season. We’ll all enjoy the games more.