Remember the child’s game of Pick Up Stix? Throw a bunch of sticks up in the air and see where they land.
Whomever designed the truncated baseball schedule of 2020 must have taken their cues from that.
Given a golden opportunity to create a balanced schedule for the first time since 1997, when inter-league play began, Major League Baseball not only blew it but somehow convinced the Players Association to agree.
Instead of reducing travel, which is a good idea while the coronavirus pandemic rages, the shortened schedule will make this worrisome season seem that much longer.
There are new rules – including the universal designated hitter – and new health protocols, with a 100-page booklet from the Office of the Commissioner now in force.
While divisional alignment and the 10-team postseason remain the same, there’s the travel-saving idea of having Eastern Division teams play only in their sector of the country, plus Central vs. Central and West vs. West. That means the Mets, for example, will play 40 games against their four NL East opponents and another 20 games against teams from the American League East.
That would work well, especially if the schedule were balanced. But it isn’t – making it so unfair that it will be impossible to determine a legitimate champion.
Since the TV-oriented crowd in the commissioner’s office decided to keep alive the ill-considered concept of “regional rivalries,” there will be extra pairings of the cities with two teams, such as New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, and the San Francisco Bay Area.
But such arrangement leaves other teams hanging – and flying much more often than they should be during a raging pandemic. The Texas Rangers, for example, will have to travel 14,706 miles, more than any of the 30 teams, while the Milwaukee Brewers have only 3,962 miles of road trips.
As Yogi Berra once said, something’s not Kosher in the State of Denmark.
Nor is it fair.
The World Champion Washington Nationals, arguably the best team in baseball, have six games to play against the Baltimore Orioles, perhaps the worst, while the Atlanta Braves face Baltimore just four times. What if the Braves, seeking their third straight NL East title, finish two games behind the Nationals because the Nats had an easier schedule?
As for the Yankees, highly favored to win the American League East and play deep into October, face a similar handicap. Their biggest divisional rival, the Tampa Bay Rays, face the moribund Miami Marlins six times – that regional rivalry thing again – but have only four with the Mets, as opposed to six for the Yankees.
In addition, the home-and-road distribution is completely uneven across the board. Although the Mets have 10 games against all of their rivals, there’s not a 5-and-5 split to be had. The Mets wlll be home for six of their ten games against the Braves, Nationals, and Marlins but for only four of their ten games against the Phillies.
Without fans in the stands, that might not matter. But that doesn’t make it right.
Nor is it right that the Los Angeles Dodgers, seeking their eighth straight NL West crown, will play just 17 games against teams with winning records last year. Only the Oakland A’s, in the American League West, have an equally easy schedule.
Cincinnati is now a dark-horse candidate to win the NL Central partly because its interleague opponents will come from the weak AL Central rather than the formidable AL East, as outlined in the original 162-game schedule.
Since no East teams will face Central opponents during the two-month sprint that starts July 23, the long-standing Pennsylvania rivalry between the Philadelphia Phillies and Pittsburgh Pirates is also a casualty of the coronavirus outbreak. They have met 2.297 times, for 133 straight seasons dating back to 1887.
Like the Reds, the San Diego Padres hope to parlay a scheduling quirk into a postseason spot.
The Friars will spend the entire final month in California except for a single three-game series in Seattle against the Mariners.
The crazy schedule has also smashed the tradition of Friday afternoon games at Wrigley Field; the Cubs will play all of their Friday games at night. Wouldn’t be surprised if TV had something to do with that!
Had the schedule-makers really wanted to avoid extra travel in this Year of the Pandemic, they could have included some five-game series for divisional rivals. But not one appears, despite plenty of four-game sets.
As a result, teams will be using buses, trains, and planes much more often than they should. With so many players testing positive for COVID-19 infections even during these early days of Spring Training 2.0, the extra travel created by the schedule translates to much more risk than reward.
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