While watching (to be accurate, listening, because I was painting a house so I got to hang with Andy Freed and Dave Wills for three days) the Rays sleepwalk their way through the weekend series against the Angels, I was reminded of a savvy observation by veteran baseball-man Jim Ferguson.
“Fergie” is one of the Rays’ official scorers. Before moving south, Fergie was the PR Director for the Big Red Machine (and many other Reds’ teams). Sitting in media dining one afternoon, before a Thursday get-away-day-game, Fergie observed how expansion has created travel challenges for newer franchises. That afternoon, Devil Rays were headed out on a 6-hour mid-week flight to Seattle for a weekend series with the Mariners. Fergie made the point that the older franchises have a distinct travel advantage because their home cities were chosen before air-travel was popular, thus they are closer together.
And he’s right. This season, the Rays will take 38 flights totaling approximately 101 hours of flight time (according to the flight time estimator at www.howmanyhours.com). Fergie’s Reds, on the other hand, will only spend 65 hours suspended above the continental United States during the course of their 38 flights. The Orioles (who are the most centrally located AL East team geographically) will spend 71 hours in the air over 37 flights.
I think it is fair to say that exhaustion cost the Rays at least one, if not two, games this weekend. Looking ahead, there are at least four more series that will begin after a long, nighttime flight. Assuming, for the sake of argument, that the Rays will lose 3 of those 4 series openers (and I think the effect goes beyond the first game, but, let’s stick to the conservative estimate), the Rays’ extra 31-hours of air travel will cost them at least 4 games this season if not 6 or 8.
That is huge number in the no-margin-for-error 2011 AL East.