Now we can truly start looking in earnest at the future of Major League Baseball in this fashion come 2013:
Some national baseball writers have taken a cursory look at scheduling, and have deduced that teams would simply play 18 games per in-division opponent and 6 against the non-division league opponent. However, when you do that and add 6 interleague series (18 games total), you only get to 150 games. Adding a game or series here and there makes things a little weird, though it’s not a fatal flaw. As usual, I’ve given some thought to the new scheduling format permutations. Consider these:
- A: It’s actually a good idea to have numerous teams against whom a team would play 7 games, since it naturally forces lots of 4-game series. If teams have nothing but 3-game series throughout the season, the season would automatically be lengthened since it would introduce an off day every week. The occasional 4-game series ensures that Mondays and Thursdays would continue to showcase games. The game total is only 160, which means that two opponents would probably have 8 games scheduled.
- B: This is what I like to call the “square” option because it’s slightly more balanced than the previous regime and it has even numbers pretty much across the board. It looks good in theory, but I’m not sure how easily it can be pulled off in practice. When you break it down into series, it introduces the possibility there may be too many 4-game series. If that occurs, it would create a lot of “round-the-corner” 4-game series which start on a Friday and end on a Monday. That actually happens in the 2012 schedule on a couple of occasions, but this option could almost enshrine RtC, the same way AAA baseball does. Whether or not that’s actually a big deal is up for debate, it certainly is different. There’s also the possibility that instead of scheduling lots of 4-game series, there could be a lot of 2-game series instead, which the union has fought for years.
- C: Another step towards having a balanced schedule, this option is intriguing because it reduces the number of interleague games and appears to have a lot of 3-game series. For in-division games, teams would play 8 home/7 road or vice-versa. When broken down into series it comes to 3-3-2 home/3-4 road. As in the current format, some teams would have two series against non-division opponents at home and one on the road (or vice-versa). The most intriguing facet of this is the slight rollback of the number of interleague games, which could be done in exchange for the seemingly more pervasive all-season scheduling of interleague series.
- D: A slight tweak on C, it sacrifices one game per in-division opponent to add back interleague games. You’ll notice that the total number of games is 164. To get to 162, the “natural rivalry” series would be cut down from 2 x 3 games to 2 x 2 games.
- E: More shifting towards a balanced schedule, and as a consequence it almost eliminates interleague. It practically limits interleague games to those natural rivalry series and in doing so, more or less defeats the purpose of having interleague play. Technically this option isn’t feasible because there would be too few interleague games to fill the schedule (90 per season out of 2430 total, season is 180 days long).
- F: And the shift to a balanced schedule is complete. Like C, it has an odd number of games against each in-division opponent, which may not be feasible because there are an odd number of teams playing an odd number of games. So it may be academic.
(Note: I’m writing this fairly early on Saturday morning so it’s possible that not all synapses are firing. Let me know if my math is wrong anywhere.)
In addition, having 15 teams in each league mandates at least one interleague series at all times (save for off days). Depending on the actual number of interleague series played, it’s possible that there could be 3 or 5 series played at once.
The other big shift, which could be enacted for the 2012 season, is the addition of a second wild card team per league. Highly controversial, it creates play-in games for each league’s two wild card teams, the winner facing the highest seeded division winner. In doing this, it appears that MLB is finally getting of the ridiculous requirement that two teams from the same division can’t face each other in the first round. The bad thing is that it’s possible that two teams who are 10 games apart in the wild card race could face off in the play-in game, whose outcome could be entirely dependent on which starting pitchers are toeing the rubber that day. The good thing is that it should motivate more teams to aim for the division crown instead of settling for a wild card spot, since the wild card itself is a major risk point. The play-in winner would be at an additional disadvantage since they would be unable to set up the rotation for a playoff series unlike a division winner (assuming a division winner didn’t squeak into the postseason on their own). I haven’t seen the actual definition of which teams qualify for the play-in games, but I expect it to be the two teams in each league with the best records who haven’t won their respective divisions.
Adding more wild card teams would reduce the possibility of the several-hour, flip-through-the-channels, exquisite timing events of September 28. Then again, perhaps that was a once-in-a-lifetime scenario. Hopefully that kind of drama will be replaced by the drama of numerous teams in tight divisional races fighting to win their divisions and stay out of a wild card spot. I’m cool with that.