Since it’s likely that the 2020 MLB season will be shortened, this would be a good time to also re-think the schedule and the entire divisional structure.
Let’s be candid: The existing 162-game schedule will be irrelevant during the 2020 MLB season. At the earliest, we won’t see any baseball until May, and that’s likely optimistic.
Realistically, in the current environment, if teams play 100 games, that would be an accomplishment.
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So we need to scrap the existing schedule and come up with something tighter but workable. And given the painful revenue circumstances most teams will face – will fans even be permitted? – a schedule that reduces expenses would also be advisable.
The starting date is also outside MLB’s control. Several governors have already imposed bans on meetings of groups larger than a few people. Games won’t even be possible in those states until such restrictions are lifted. That is a medical and/or political, not a sports, call.
So here’s a modest proposal: Let’s begin to think in terms of a half-season schedule of 80 games, and play all of them within five newly-constructed and geographical-based six-team divisions.
That approach would retain the integrity of the races by ensuring that each team played its direct competitors at least 16 times. (If the calendar permits, go to 18 or 20 games per divisional opponent, amounting to 90 or 100 games.)
Since the present MLB divisional structure is based on five teams – a number that makes an all-divisional schedule impossible – it would be necessary for 2020 to regroup teams. That makes this a capital opportunity to try out a geographic approach.
Yes, you lose several things, notably the classic American and National League distinctions. But hey, that distinction substantively went away with inter-league play two decades ago.
Here’s one proposal for reconstituting the divisions for the 2020 MLB season.
- Boston Red Sox
- New York Yankees
- New York Mets
- Toronto Blue Jays
- Baltimore Orioles
- Washington Nationals
- Tampa Bay Rays
- Miami Marlins
- Atlanta Braves
- Philadelphia Phillies
- Cincinnati Reds
- Pittsburgh Pirates
- Great Lakes
- Chicago White Sox
- Chicago Cubs
- Cleveland Indians
- Detroit Tigers
- Milwaukee Brewers
- Minnesota Twins
- Arizona Diamondbacks
- Colorado Rockies
- Texas Rangers
- Kansas City Royals
- Houston Astros
- St. Louis Cardinals
- West Coast
- San Diego Padres
- Los Angeles Dodgers
- Los Angeles Angels
- Oakland Athletics
- San Francisco Giants
- Seattle Mariners
On the plus side, you save travel, you save expense, you intensify regional rivalries, and you maintain the concept of legitimate races that result in true divisional champions.
With five legitimate – and on paper anyway equal – division champions, the post-season, too, would have to be re-done….although not dramatically. With five champions, we need three teams to fill out an eight-team bracket. Those spots would go to the three non-champions with the best records. Go ahead and think of them as wild cards.
The divisional champions plus the wild cards would advance directly to a best-of-five round, the three divisional champions with the best records playing the wild cards.
From there, things proceed normally: a best-of-seven LCS followed by a best-of-seven World Series.
Since MLB really has no idea when play might be able to begin, such a simplified schedule would have the virtue of being generatable on short notice.
True, teams would have to rethink how to handle ticket packages for the 2020 MLB season and previously purchased single-game tickets … but they’ve got to do that anyway.
Also true, this approach would cost fans the chance to see more than a limited number of teams. But given the sheer number of those teams, attempting to get every team to play every other one its own league would significantly reduce the number of in-division games, They’d be further reduced by attempting to schedule inter-league games.
And trying to do either or both of those would severely compromise the head-to-head competition that gives validity to divisional champions.
It makes sense to try this idea for one season.