What we know about the NLDS start times

For everyone with kids, jobs, and religious holidays to observe, we are trying to figure out when the Nationals will play on Friday and Saturday. Here’s what we know and don’t know.

- Last season, the four NLDS/ALDS games played on the same day were played at 1pm, 3pm, 6pm, and 9:30pm EST. There’s no guarantee that’ll happen again because baseball has a new TV contract this season.

- The 2 ALDS games on Friday will be played on TBS. The 2 NLDS games will be played on Fox Sports1 or the MLB Network. The TBS website lists game start times at 6pm EST and 9:30 EST, with regular programming before then. The Fox Sports1 website lists “To Be Announced” under the time blocks of 2:30-4pm, 4-7pm, and 8-11 EST. The 2:30-4pm time block certainly isn’t long enough for a game, but it’s long enough for a pregame show. The 4-7pm and 8-11pm blocks are long enough for a game, however.

- Despite staggering the times last season, the above TV schedules make it appear there will be games at 4pm, 6pm, 8pm, and 9:30pm. Staggering the start times may have been the strategy for MLB is seasons past, but maybe MLB is now looking to air the games later in the day, closer together, giving their NLDS/ALDS coverage more of a March Madness feel with multiple games going on at the same time.

- There were Twitter rumors today that Nationals Park ushers were warned the Friday game could be as early as 1pm and also the Lerners asked for a 1pm start to ensure the game was over before Yom Kippur. These are just rumors, but I thought they were worth sharing.

- Using the above times on the Fox Sports1 website, it appears the Nats will play at either 4pm or 8pm, which wouldn’t help those observing Yom Kippur, but that difference is huge for those with jobs.

- The Dodgers will play the Cardinals on Friday, while the Nationals will play either the Pirates or the Giants, depending on who wins the Wild Card game on Wednesday night. Under either scenario, one would imagine the Dodgers-Cardinals matchup drawing a bigger nationwide audience. Perhaps MLB and Fox are waiting to see if the Giants or Pirates advance, since Nationals-Pirates is probably the worst matchup for ratings. But in either scenario, the Dodgers and Cardinals are the bigger draw and most likely to get a prime time slot.

- Using all of this incomplete information, our best guess is that you’ll still have to take off work on Friday to see the Nats game, which will probably be a 4pm start. Saturday’s game will probably also be a late afternoon/early start as well (there are only 2 games on Saturday).

- Finally, a source with the Nationals told me today we probably won’t know the times until Wednesday night after the NL Wild Card game. I certainly hope my source is wrong, but with MLB, nothing would surprise me. They always, excuse me, ALWAYS, put the preference of their TV partners over the convenience of their fans.

Projecting the Nationals NLDS Game 1 & 2 start times

Last season, MLB announced the start times for the ALDS and NLDS Games 1 and 2 in the late afternoon on September 30, the day after the regular season ended. That means we can expect to learn sometime today when the Nats will take the field for their first two playoff games at Nats Park.

However, if you can’t wait, or MLB drops the ball and doesn’t make the announcement today, here’s our best projection.

On Friday, October 3, there are 4 MLB playoff games. The 4 playoff games will be hosted by the Nationals, Dodgers, Angels, and Orioles.

MLB will of course stagger the start times of the 4 games on October 3 to maximize viewership. Last season, the start times for the 4 LDS games played on the same day were 12pm, 3pm, 6pm, and 9:30pm EST. It seems unlikely the schedule would change this year.

This year, the Dodgers or Angels would be given the late slot since they are West Coast teams. If the Dodgers are given the late night slot, there’s no chance the Nationals game will be a night game, since MLB will not put both National League games in prime time (they didn’t last year). If the Angels are given the late night slot, the Nationals will also likely be bumped to the daytime, the Dodgers cannot be given a time slot before noon Pacific Standard Time (last year, the games alternated between American and National League games).

So, here are the likely schedules:

Scenario One:

9:30 EST — Cardinals at Dodgers

6pm — Wild Card (Royals/A’s) at Angels

3pm — Wild Card (Giants/Pirates) at Nationals

12pm — Tigers at Orioles

Scenario Two:

9:30 EST — Wild Card (Royals/A’s) at Angels

6pm — Cardinals at Dodgers

3pm — Tigers at Orioles

12pm — Wild Card (Giants/Pirates) at Nationals

There are only two games, both National League games, scheduled for Saturday, October 4. Based on last year, they will likely be played at 5:30pm and 9pm EST. The Nationals will almost surely have the earlier game. The Dodgers playing on the West Coast are much more likely to have the later game, and the Dodgers/Cardinals matchup is far more likely to command a bigger prime time audience (particularly if the Pirates win the Wild Card game). If you observe Yom Kippur, your best case scenario is a noon game on Friday for Game 1. Yom Kippur ends around 6:30pm on Saturday, which means you should start getting in the Ben’s Chili Bowl line around the beginning of the third inning of Game 2.

Will you have to take off work to attend NLDS Game 1? Probably

For those of us with jobs–and kids–and need to plan ahead, the playoffs pose quite a dilemma. In Major League Baseball’s eternal quest to maximize profits and TV ratings at the expense of their fans’ convenience, the league does not publish the start times for playoff games until after the participants are decided. Gotta put the Dodgers primetime, right?

Setting aside my cynicism for moment, I wanted to make an honest attempt to figure out what time the Nationals will play their first home playoff game, which is scheduled for Friday, October 3.

On Friday, October 3, there are 4 MLB playoff games. This will be a bonanza for baseball fans, but it’s also a disaster for those of us who to need to make arrangements with our bosses and babysitters more than a week ahead of time. The playoff teams may change between now and then (and we won’t know the Wild Card teams until the Wild Card games are played), but it’s likely the 4 playoff games will be hosted by the Nationals, Dodgers, Angels, and Orioles. There’s a chance the Cardinals, with 84 wins, could surpass the Dodgers or Nationals who have 86 and 87 wins, respectively. But until the standings change, let’s assume these 4 teams will be hosting Game 1.

MLB will of course stagger the start times of the 4 games on October 3 to maximize viewership. Last season, the start times for the 4 LDS games played on the same day were 12pm, 3pm, 6pm, and 9:30pm EST. It seems unlikely the schedule would change this year.

This year, the Dodgers or Angels would be given the late slot since they are West Coast teams. If the Dodgers are given the late night slot, there’s no chance the Nationals game will be a night game, since MLB will not put both National League games in prime time (they didn’t last year). If the Angels are given the late night slot, the Nationals will also likely be bumped to the daytime, the Dodgers cannot be given a time slot before noon Pacific Standard Time (last year, the games alternated between American and National League games).

So, here are the likely schedules:

Scenario One:

9:30 EST — Cardinals at Dodgers

6pm — Wild Card (Royals/Tigers/A’s) at Angels

3pm — Wild Card (Giants/Pirates) at Nationals

12pm — Tigers/Royals at Orioles

Scenario Two:

9:30 EST — Wild Card (Royals/Tigers/A’s) at Angels

6pm — Cardinals at Dodgers

3pm — Tigers/Royals at Orioles

12pm — Wild Card (Giants/Pirates) at Nationals

Now, if the Cardinals surpass the Dodgers for second best record in the NL and gain the right to host Game 1, the Nationals are also unlikely to play a night game since a Dodgers at Cardinals matchup would be far more enticing in primetime than a Giants/Pirates at Nationals matchup. Unless there’s a huge shake-up in the standings, the smart money here says you’re probably taking off work on Friday, October 3.

Unless the Nationals fall all the way to the third seed in the National League, at which point everything I just wrote is pointless.

Is there something I’m missing? If so, hit us up at @halfstreetheart.

UPDATE: There are only two games, both National League games, scheduled for Saturday, October 4. Based on last year, they will likely be played at 5:30pm and 9pm EST. If the Nationals and Dodgers are hosting, the Nationals will almost surely have the earlier game. If you observe Yom Kippur, your best case scenario is a noon game on Friday for Game 1. Yom Kippur ends around 6:30pm on Saturday, which means you should start getting in the Ben’s Chili Bowl line around the beginning of the third inning of Game 2–fourth inning, if Doug Fister is pitching that day.

Nats Contract Recoup Tracker

With the Nats clinching the NL East Title I would not expect these numbers to change much for the rest of the year.

Only players not to recoup their contracts Zim (injury) LaRoche (mild surprise) Soriano (no chance from the start) and Fister (Although Baseball Reference has him at 3.8 WAR)

Value based on the 2014 free agent value per WAR $6 Million

Player Salary WAR Value % Recoup
Rendon $2,700,000 5.9 $35,400,000 1311%
Zimmermann $7,500,000 4.5 $27,000,000 360%
Werth $20,571,429 4 $24,000,000 117%
Strasburg $3,975,000 3.9 $23,400,000 589%
Span $6,500,000 3.8 $22,800,000 351%
Desmond $6,500,000 3.3 $19,800,000 305%
Roark $506,100 2.9 $17,400,000 3438%
Gonzalez $8,600,000 2.5 $15,000,000 174%
Ramos $2,095,000 2.1 $12,600,000 601%
Clippard $5,875,000 1.4 $8,400,000 143%
LaRoche $12,000,000 1.3 $7,800,000 65%
Zimmerman $14,000,000 1.2 $7,200,000 51%
Harper $2,150,000 1.2 $7,200,000 335%
Fister $7,200,000 1.1 $6,600,000 92%
Storen $3,450,000 0.8 $4,800,000 139%
Stammen $1,375,000 0.7 $4,200,000 305%
Soriano $14,000,000 0.6 $3,600,000 26%
Barrett $500,000 0.6 $3,600,000 720%
Espinosa $540,850 0.6 $3,600,000 666%
Cabrera 0 0.5 $3,000,000 Infinity
Blevins $1,675,000 0.5 $3,000,000 179%
Lobaton $950,000 0.5 $3,000,000 316%
Treinen $500,000 0.4 $2,400,000 480%
Moore $507,900 0.3 $1,800,000 354%
Leon $501,000 0.1 $600,000 120%
Frandsen $900,000 0 $0 0%
Detwiler $3,000,000 -0.2 -$1,200,000 -40%
Hairston $2,500,000 -0.5 -$3,000,000 -120%
McLouth $5,000,000 -0.6 -$3,600,000 -72%

The Best Images of a National League East Championship

Some cities go an entire generation without a division title. Some cities go entire generation without a baseball team altogether. So, when a night like last night comes around, it’s fitting and appropriate to enjoy it.  Here are some lasting images from a celebration of a 2014 National League East Championship.

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Seriously, if the above image of Adam LaRoche hugging his son Drake doesn’t make you at least a little misty, you’re probably a robot. If you only remember one image from last night, remember this one.

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Always the team leader, Ian Desmond was the first National to put on the Championship t-shirt and hat. If anything, I’m surprised he wasn’t wearing it under his uniform.

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Not a bad time to make the trip to Atlanta to see the hometown Nats.

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Take your shoes off Bryce.

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For some reason, the Nationals clubhouse resembled a creepy European disco you wouldn’t want your daughter to go to while studying abroad. After the game, Hollywood producers probably used the Nats locker room as a set for “Taken 3″.

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Lost in the celebration was this unfortunate man (in the background in a Braves shirt), presumably a Braves/Turner Field employee who not only had to watch the Nationals destroy the clubhouse for which he’s responsible, he probably also had to help with the cleanup. Poor guy.

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Matt Williams appears to have brought his own beer to the Miller Lite party. Say what you want about Matt Williams, but the man didn’t settle for crappy watered down domestic beer. He also quoted Robert Frost in his victory toast. That’s way too much culture for a city like Atlanta.

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Poor Dan Kolko.

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This speaks for itself.

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The reason the Nats won the NL East. And the reason they’ll probably win it again next year.

Congrats boys. Bring on the Cardinals.

Did MLB’s MASN arbitration panel really rule “in favor” of the Nationals?

The Orioles and Nationals have been disputing the “market value” MASN is required to pay the Nationals annually to televise their games in the DC market. In 2011, when the original MASN contract called for a “reset” of the Nationals’ compensation from MASN, the Orioles and  Nationals were so far apart on the definition of “market value” the matter was referred to an arbitration panel to settle the conflict. The Orioles, it was reported, believed the “market value” for the Nationals TV rights to be around $35 million annually. The Nationals, it was also reported, believed the number to be somewhere in between $100 million and $120 million. You can see why the Orioles and the Nationals couldn’t reach a compromise.

The baseball world waited…and waited…and waited for a decision from the arbitration panel for over two years. On July 29, the Hollywood Reporter reported that the arbitration panel finally made a decision–in favor of the Nationals. The Orioles are now challenging that panel decision in court.

The Hollywood Reporter wrote:

Per the terms of the settlement, beginning in 2012 MASN had to pay the Nationals “fair market value.” The TV station balked, and so an arbitration hearing commenced in April before a panel comprising the chief operating officer of the New York Mets, the president of the Pittsburgh Pirates and the owner of the Tampa Bay Rays. Some of this has been previously reported. The Nationals reportedly got $29 million per year under the old TV contract and wanted it bumped up to somewhere between $100 million and $120 million per year.

What’s been kept under wraps until now is that on June 30, the MLB committee adjudicating the dispute issued its decision, which favored the Nationals. That prompted attorneys to swing into high gear and Commissioner Selig to attempt to get out in front of the situation.

The Washington Post–who were completely scooped in this matter by a non-competitor 3,000 miles away that doesn’t even cover sports–scrambled to catch up. They too, reported that MLB’s arbitration panel ruled in favor of the Nationals. 

The Post’s Adam Kilgore wrote, soon after the Hollywood Reporter story:

Major League Baseball’s arbitration panel ruled in favor of the Washington Nationals in their longstanding, contentious dispute with the Baltimore Orioles over television rights fees from the Mid-Atlantic Sports Network, a person familiar with the situation confirmed Tuesday afternoon.

The person would not reveal the terms of the June 30 ruling that might only begin a new, litigious chapter in the acrimonious, years-long squabble over profits from MASN. Last week in New York’s Supreme Court, the Nationals filed a motion against MASN, which is majority-owned by the Orioles; that case has been sealed. MLB, the Orioles and MASN acknowledged the dispute remains unsettled in official statements issued Tuesday.

But did the panel really rule “in favor” of the Nationals? It is true that the arbitration panel’s decision is under seal by the court, but the rest of the court documents are on the Supreme Court of New York’s website for anyone to read, and they contain enough clues to figure out exactly how the arbitration panel ruled.

In a letter dated July 3, 2014 on the Court’s website, an attorney for the Nationals wrote MASN asking for “an additional $10,037,204.50 in telecast rights fee payments” because a prior “payment of $9,818,358.50 failed to reflect the fair market value of the telecast rights licensed by the Nationals.” The letter made it clear this money demand was being made pursuant to the arbitration panel’s June 30 ruling.

Furthermore, elsewhere in the legal pleadings, it is stated “the Nationals receive quarterly payments of telecast rights fees”–that is, 4 times a year. If MASN paid the Nationals $9,818,358.50 and the Nationals are owed an additional $10,037,204.50 pursuant to the arbitration panel, that means the arbitration panel’s June 30 decision requires MASN to pay the Nats $19,855,563 every quarter. Over a calendar year, this means arbitration panel ruled the “fair market value” of the Nationals TV rights to be $79,422,252.

Legal pleadings filed August 13 by the Nationals attorneys argue “for just 2014, MASN to date has deprived the Nationals of $15,055,806.75 (not including interest). If MASN also fails, for the next (and final 2014) payment due on September 1, to pay the amounts required by the RSDC decision, MASN will have deprived the Nationals of $20,074,409.00 just for 2014.”

$20,074,409 divided by two equals exactly $10,037,204.50, the amount demanded by the Nationals in their July 3 letter. That $10,037,204.50 amount was likely payment for two quarters worth of extra rights fee payments. Using the new numbers, $9,818,358.50, the quarterly amount previously being paid by MASN to the Orioles plus the additional $20,074,409 ordered by the arbitration panel means the Nationals “fair market value” TV rights are valued at $59,347,843 annually by the arbitration panel.

Remember, the Nationals asked for over $100 million annually. Since the arbitration panel valued the Nats’ TV rights to be worth $79 $59 million, I’ll leave it to you to decide whether they really ruled “in favor” of the Nationals. To me, it sounds like a compromise between the Nationals and Orioles two demands.

Kilgore didn’t reveal his “person familiar with the situation” but perhaps it’s telling this person didn’t actually reveal the numbers in the arbitration panel’s decision, only the conclusion that it was “in favor” of the Nationals. If this “person familiar with the situation” worked for MASN or the Orioles, you can see why they’d want to keep Kilgore in the dark and let him print their conclusions as fact.

UPDATE: Legal pleadings filed late on August 13 suggest the number could be even less than the $79 million estimated above. Attorneys for the Nationals wrote “the fair market value of the Nationals’ telecast rights as awarded by the RSDC is on average $58.4 million less per year than the amount requested by the Nationals during the RSDC proceeding – while, at the same time, only $20.1 million more per year on average than the amount MASN advocated.” Without knowing the amount asked for before the arbitration panel, it’s impossible to know exactly how much they valued the “market value” of the Nats TV right. But it’s clear the amount is far below the $100+ the Nationals demanded.

 

Baseball is dying…enjoy it while it lasts

It’s hard to go a full day nowadays without hearing or reading some version of the tired “baseball is dying” narrative. During football season, baseball is dying because football is more popular. During basketball season, baseball is dying because there’s no LeBron James in baseball. This summer during the World Cup, baseball was dying because baseball is long and boring, and kids don’t have the patience to watch it.

At the center of this narrative is always the idea that one sport’s success must come at another sports expense. In the “baseball is dying” narrative, that other sport is always baseball. Well, I reject that zero-sum theory of sports popularity. I watched the World Cup this summer, and it won’t make me any less likely to watch the World Series this fall. I have two fantasy football teams and I watch the Redskins every Sunday. Neither of those facts make me less likely to attend Nationals games in the summer (and Monday-Saturday in the fall). People have time for more than one sport in their lives. If anything, the success of football, basketball, and soccer creates more sports fans, and more sports fans creates a larger market, of which baseball can eventually take advantage.

The leads to Keith Olbermann, who addressed the topic of baseball’s “declining popularity” last night (the video and commentary can be found here on Hardball Talk). The video clip is worth watching, but in case you cannot stand the sound of Olbermann’s voice, allow me to summarize his main points. Olbermann argues National TV ratings are down (this is true), the number of kids citing baseball as their favorite sport is down (also true), and the median age of baseball fans is rising (true). Olbermann discounts nearly every other metric (attendance, accessibility, quality) that suggests baseball is in the best shape it’s ever been. One favorable metric cited by Olbermann, local TV ratings, is immediately discarded by him as irrelevant, with no explanation why (presumably, because it didn’t fit his narrative). Simple logic might dictate that high local TV ratings are precisely why National TV ratings are so low. Furthermore, ten years ago, I couldn’t pull out an iPad and watch literally every MLB game played that day. I didn’t have the MLB Network and the MLB iPhone app to ensure I didn’t miss a single relevant highlight from the previous night. In 2014, the “National Game of the Week” couldn’t be more redundant. It’s just another game.

Also discarded by Olbermann is the fact that baseball is healthy on a local level for almost every Major League club. Outside a few miserable markets (Tampa for instance), attendance is strong and competitiveness and parity are at an all time high. Fifteen of the 30 MLB teams are averaging over 30 thousand fans a night and all but two are averaging over 20 thousand. More importantly, in mid-August, 22 of the 30 MLB teams still have a realistic shot at the playoffs. Maybe these numbers suggest baseball fans’ attention is directed where it should be: inwards toward their hometown team. Whereas the sports world gawks at the LeBron spectacle from afar, those same sports fans are enjoying baseball by buying tickets to watch a pennant race involving their own teams.

There’s never been a better time to enjoy baseball. I couldn’t be a bigger fan…yet right now I don’t even know when/where to find the National TV “Game of the Week.”

I suppose that means I’m part of the problem. So I guess baseball is dying, and I’m proof why.