The pace of Major League Baseball games is becoming a real problem.
MLB games are now averaging three hours and 14 minutes, the highest mark in the league's history. And it's not like offense is slowing the games down, as runs scored and hits are down across the game and strikeouts are reaching record numbers. Friday's Cubs-Cardinals game blew that time stamp out of the water, taking three hours and 48 minutes to play eight-and-a-half innings.
Sports fans have been critical of the slow pace of baseball games for a while now, using words like "boring" to describe the current state of the sport. In the age of 140 characters and social media, people are more tuned in to short, quick bursts of action like professional football.
It's gotten so bad in recent years that MLB commissioner Bud Selig had to field questions on the pace of games while at Wrigley Field for the 100th anniversary celebration in April.
It's not just Yankees-Red Sox games taking a long time. Each of the last two games in the Cubs-Padres series at Wrigley Field took three hours and 36 minutes to complete. Of course, Edwin Jackson started for the Cubs Thursday night and is ranked as the 12th-slowest pitcher in the game, taking an average of 24.9 seconds per pitch.
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MLB has a rule in place that permits a pitcher to take only 12 seconds in between pitches, but it is almost never enforced by umpires.
Apart from hammering down on that rule, what else can be done to help move games along?
"The only thing that speeds up ballgames is good defense and good pitching," Cubs manager Rick Renteria said. "There are a lot of times when we're actually ready to go and we're waiting for the TV. There are a lot of different factors involved in the extent of the length of the ballgames.
"But anytime you have solid pitching, the tempo of the game is sped up, those obviously shorten up ballgames. Sometimes you can't control the length of the ballgames, quite frankly. They are what they are."
Renteria's bullpen management doesn't help. Throughout the year, the Cubs skipper has often used three pitchers in one inning while playing matchups and splits. The Cubs have six guys on pace for 58 or more appearances this season, and that includes time taken out for injury for guys like Pedro Strop (groin) and Hector Rondon (elbow) earlier this year.
James Russell and Wesley Wright - the left-handed duo in the bullpen - have combined to make 77 appearances this season but have only pitched 59 innings in that span, since they often only face one or two batters in an outing.
Coaches challenges haven't helped either. Managers stall while waiting to decide whether they should throw the challenge flag or not and then once they actually do, the umpires have to jog over to the sidelines to review the play, a process which takes several minutes.
Renteria may be on to something that TV time is delaying games, but the style of the modern bullpen — and how it's utilized — coupled with the slow, meandering pace of both pitchers and hitters has done enough to slow down the pace of MLB games.