Five Thoughts on the 2020 MLB Schedule

While most of the attention yesterday rightly went to the potential deficiencies in MLB’s testing protocol as delays prevented multiple teams from getting ready for the season and left many players unaware of their own test results, the league did release this year’s schedule. The season begins with a doubleheader featuring the Nationals against the Yankees followed by the Dodgers against the Giants on July 23, with a full slate of games the following day. If all goes well, teams will have finished the full 60-game season on September 27.

The Schedule is Going to Look Weird

As the league decided to limit travel this year in the hopes of containing the coronavirus, teams are playing games in their own division as well as the corresponding geographical division in the opposite league, with 40 games played in-division and 20 games against the opposite league; six of those interleague games are against each team’s so-called natural interleague rival. So, this serves as your official reminder that Atlanta actually lines up pretty close to the Indiana-Ohio border going from North to South!

The Central is clustered together in the middle and the East is all in the same time zone, while the West has some outliers with the Mariners and the two Texas teams a considerable distance apart and Colorado off on its own. Where the schedule gets even weirder is that teams in the division don’t play an equal number of home and road games against their opponents. Teams will play every team in their own division 10 times, but instead of playing five home games and five road games, the number of home games will range from three to seven. That being said…

Don’t Pay Too Much Attention to the Home/Road Division Split

First, we don’t really know how home field advantage is going to play out this season. There are some obvious structural advantages in getting to bat last, but a short season played in front of no fans during a pandemic creates a huge number of unknowns when it comes to how much of an advantage home teams might have.

In addition, the condensed schedule, with in-division games making up two-thirds of the slate, tends to negate any single advantage one team has over another. While it might seem like a big advantage to host a rival seven times, as the Cubs do with the Cardinals, the actual overall advantage is quite small. The Cardinals, in turn, get seven home games against the Pirates, while the Cubs have seven road games against a quality opponent in the Reds. Because every team has 20 home games and 20 road games in-division, for two similarly talented teams competing against their division, their opponents are essentially the same strength-wise even if the teams don’t have the same number of home games against each. It might make a difference if one team is chasing another in mid-September, in which case a club would prefer the extra home games, but right now, there isn’t a significant advantage.

Do Pay Attention to the Interleague Strength of Schedule

Continuing on the Cubs and Cardinals theme from above, the Cardinals have six interleague games against the Royals and four against the Tigers, while the Cubs get a total of seven games against the AL Central cellar-dwellers with three more games against the White Sox than St. Louis and an extra game against Cleveland. The schedule just gifted the Cardinals about two-tenths of a win compared with the Cubs. In addition to the Cardinals, the teams with the biggest gifts for their interleague rivals are the A’s (Giants), Nationals (Orioles), and Rays (Marlins). On the flip side, the potential contenders that have it a little tough include the Mets (Yankees), Diamondbacks (Astros), and the Angels (Dodgers). Most of the other matchups are fairly even or will likely prove to be unimportant.

Pay Even Closer Attention to Division Strength for the Wild Card race

While the interleague portion of the schedule can help in winning a division or a Wild Card spot, divisional strength should provide even more intrigue when it comes to the Wild Card. The Phillies and Braves might end up competing against the Brewers, Reds, and Diamondbacks, but they won’t play against each other during the regular season and they have no common opponents. Here’s what our projected NL standings would like without considering the schedule:

Take note of the fact that after the Dodgers, the next 11 teams are all within four wins of each other. There might not be a lot that separates many of these teams over such a short season, but all of the teams out West that aren’t the Dodgers have to face Los Angeles 10 times. The Phillies will play 30 of their games against three of the best-projected teams in the league. That could make the difference in getting a Wild Card spot. It’s one of the reasons the teams in the Central could have an advantage. They get to face the Pirates and no team looks great.

Here’s the same graph for the American League:

Teams in the American League are not as bunched up as they are in the National League, but again we see an advantage in the Central. There’s no powerhouse, plus the division houses two of the worst teams in the league in Kansas City and Detroit. That the Central divisions get to play each other could make the difference in this sprint of a season.

Looking For This Year’s Mariners

A year ago, Seattle started the season 13-2, meaning that even after losing 10 of their next 15 games, they were 18-12 after 30 games. This year, that’s half the season. Even if a team is lacking in talent on paper, an 18-12 record at the season’s midpoint would make them a real contender. I’m not willing to go so far as to say the Mariners will do it again, but looking a bit further up the standings, the Rangers have the potential to get off to a really good start. In their first 30 games, Texas plays six games apiece against Seattle and Colorado, with a series against the Giants as well. Win 10 of those 15 games, and split the rest of the first 30 that don’t include the Astros or the Dodgers, and Texas might start off well like they did last season, but this time, be able to sustain their success into the playoffs.

Right now, the schedule is a sign of hope as the country and league continue to struggle with the pandemic. We’ll continue to search for promising signs of an upcoming season while being aware it could all unravel in the coming weeks. Opening Day is scheduled for just 16 days from now. It’s on my calendar.

Craig Edwards can be found on twitter @craigjedwards.

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2 years ago

I worry the Orioles’ win column won’t hit double digits.