MLB's New Schedule
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On Wednesday, Major League Baseball announced its 2023 schedule … and it’s pretty fascinating stuff. For the first time ever, every team will play every other team in both leagues. Let’s break it down and then we’ll talk about what this might mean for the future of baseball.
As I understand it, the schedule will be set up as follows. Each team will play:
— Fifty-two games against divisional opponents. That’s way down from the last couple of decades; teams were playing 76 divisional games, 19 against each opponent.
Now it’s 52. Let’s pick a team for example — how about the Kansas City Royals? The Royals will play 52 games against the AL Central, or 13 games each against the Guardians, the Twins, the Tigers and the White Sox. That’s four series, two at home and two on the road.
— Sixty-four games against non-division league opponents. That’s about the same as it has been — again, using the Royals as an example, they will play the 10 teams in the American League East and American League West for a total of 64 games, so that’s one home-and-home series with each team (some of the series will be four games, most will be three).
— Forty-six games against the 15 teams in the other league. That means the Royals will play one series against every team in the National League (one of the series will be four games).
That’s 162 games, just like always, but also very different from always.
I haven’t had a lot of time to soak it all in, but I can’t see how this is anything but a good thing. The unbalanced schedule, with teams playing the bulk of their games within their division, might have made some sense when winning the division was everything. But it hardly matters anymore. The Mets and Braves are locked in what could be an interesting divisional race, but isn’t because they’re both going to the playoffs, along with almost half the National League.
If the season is no longer about winning the division — and, to be clear, it is no longer about winning the division — then baseball in my mind is totally right to make the regular season as fun and fresh as possible. Fewer Baltimore-Boston games. More Mets-Houston. Fewer Philadelphia-Washington games. More Milwaukee-Seattle. Even the best rivalries — Red Sox-Yankees, Cardinals-Cubs, Dodgers-Giants — seem to get played about 600 times a year (the same number of times the Bears and Lions play, coincidentally). Let’s bring in the Pirates. Let’s mix in the Blue Jays. Let’s see the Reds.
The rest of this will be total speculation about what this schedule change might mean long-term.
Three thoughts. One, I think baseball is trying to build up a more national presence. Now, admittedly, I might be seeing ghosts here, because making the game more national has been very much on my mind lately. But I don’t see why you would make a move like this unless you’re trying to expand your reach and spotlight your great players in every town, and trying to get fans to embrace the game as much as their own team. If you live in Philadelphia, for example, you probably never think about the Minnesota Twins, not ever. Now, at least one series a year, you will. That’s pretty cool.
Two, the whole American and National League thing is dead. It has been systematically killed. Thirty-five years ago, the leagues themselves were major players in the game’s structure. They were completely separate. They kept separate statistics and held separate records. Their rules were different. Their strike zones, it was often said, were different. The only time the American League faced the National League when it mattered was in the All-Star Game and the World Series. Whitey Ford never faced Stan Musial, not once. Bob Gibson and Reggie Jackson wrote a book together, but never faced each other. When the Reds went to play the Red Sox in the 1975 World Series, it was the first time most of them had ever seen Fenway Park; they took their first batting practice there staring in awe at the Green Monster.
So, in those days, the leagues mattered a whole lot.
That’s all gone now. I’m not saying that’s a bad thing; I think different people will feel differently about it. But it’s gone. Interleague play ended it. The universal DH ended it. Free agency and more open trading between the leagues ended it. Heck, the Milwaukee Brewers and Houston Astros swapped leagues entirely.
Point is, this new schedule is a further recognition that the American-National League thing no longer matters, and I do wonder if that will lead to other changes. Maybe there’s a more compelling way to do the All-Star Game. Maybe there’s a more compelling way to divide the teams. Or maybe nothing changes, maybe the American and National League can serve the same way that the AFC and NFC serve in the NFL, essentially as separate conferences rather than separate leagues
Third, this schedule change — which sort of came out of nowhere — suggests to me that MLB is willing to try some new things. And I would love it if they would explore one of my big ideas: A little season within the season.
Here’s my thinking: 162 games is too many for baseball’s current structure. You don’t play 162 games to eliminate 16 out of 30 teams. It’s silly.
But we all know that the owners are not about to cut games. It’s a non-starter.
So here’s what I would love to see: A mid-season baseball tournament. Sort of a summer fling. For maybe a month you have teams play this wild, World Cup-style tournament, everybody has a chance to win it, the stats would count toward the regular-season totals (to preserve our love of records), I’m just offering the framework of my idea, this can be whatever you would like it to be. But it seems to me that it:
(1) Gives MLB a real chance to celebrate baseball in the summertime, with the NFL, NBA and NHL all on hiatus.
(2) Gives the owners all the home dates they get now (with probably some extra enthusiasm for these tournament games).
(3) Allows MLB to experiment. These tournament games could have a different format, different rules. Hey, why not? You might know that our pal Joe Sheehan wrote that a viable solution to some of baseball’s problems is to make the games seven innings (and he truly believes that, sooner or later, MLB will do just that — I think college games for sure should be seven innings). So maybe you make these tournament games seven innings.
Or maybe you go with a wild idea I heard the other day — treating baseball like tennis and making it a best-of-three-set game. That would work like so: The team that wins innings 1-3 gets a set, the team that wins innings 4-6 gets a set and then, if necessary, you go to the final set, innings 7-9.
It’s funny to think about. Let’s pick a couple of games from Wednesday night. The White Sox beat the Orioles 5-3, and even though Baltimore scored a couple of runs in the ninth, it never came close to mattering.
If you did it by sets:
The White Sox win the first set 2-0.
The Orioles win the second set 1-0.
The White Sox take a 3-0 in the final set, but in the bottom of the ninth the Orioles score two on an Austin Hays homer and have a chance to steal the game.
That’s a lot more interesting, right?
The Phillies beat the Reds 7-5, again, nothing too intriguing about it — the Phillies took a 6-1 lead early.
Phillies win the first set 6-1.
Reds win the second set 2-0.
And then, third set, tense, and the Reds win it 2-1 on Alejo López’s RBI double.
This may not appeal to you at all, but for a tournament? Couldn’t that be fun? You would have straight-set wins, yes, like the Dodgers’ 12-6 victory over the Brewers on Wednesday (Dodgers win the first set 5-2 and the second 7-0), so we would have missed out on four meaningless runs by the Brewers, two of them thanks to the pitching stylings of second baseman Hanser Alberto. I could do without that.
And, yes, there would be any number of consequences, many of which you are angrily writing in the comments now. I get it. I’m not saying this is THE answer. I’m saying it’s interesting. And this new schedule suggests to me that MLB is now willing to entertain interesting ideas. I couldn’t be happier.