The New York Yankees look more or less unstoppable this season, but that doesn’t necessarily make them altogether happy. In fact at times it seems their complaining is also unstoppable. However, they may have a valid complaint with their latest, namely that the current schedule is rather … crappy.
As USA Today noted, much of the Pinstripers complaint is about the number of Sunday night games they play, a function of their popularity, ironically. ESPN pays big money for a national Sunday night game, and New York is a routine ratings draw, so MLB co-operate and give the network an abundance of Yankees games to air. The New york-Boston pairings are particularly popular. This, they fret, makes it hard when they have a Monday game in a different city. While most teams play early Sunday afternoon and could be en route to the next city, if needed by 5PM, the Yankees often have to wait until the wee hours of the morning to move on. They feel it puts them at a competitive disadvantage. A quick look at the sched shows the Yankees are granted 10 Mondays off this season, a rather large amount, and their record seems to show they’re doing OK with it, but that’s not quite the point. As the article suggests, the current makeup of the sched is decidedly unfair to many teams.
As it stands now, teams play 20 interleague games a year, heavily weighted towards games with the equivalent division (ie, American League East tend to play the National League East teams for the most part), especially the so-called “natural rivals”. These include some obvious pairings like the two Big Apple teams, the two Chicago ones, the Missouri battle between St. Louis and Kansas City… and some not very obvious or real rivalries – Houston v Colorado anyone?
The sched also has teams playing other teams in their own division a full 19 times a year, leaving the remainder (66 games in all) to be split among the 10 teams in other divisions of their own league. Six or seven games per year. Toronto, for example, will face the weak White Sox only 6 times in 2018, but the mighty Yanks 19 times. Not quite fair, is it? As well, the few games against non-divisional teams means weather can really wreak havoc on the sched. Since there’s only 1 trip to each out-of-division, in-league city a year, a rainout – or worse, several rain or snow days in a row- can’t be made up the next time through. The teams have to forfeit a day off sometime during the year to makeup the game, often requiring extensive travel on short rest, as the Jays saw in May with two games in Cleveland stuffed in the middle of a roadtrip that went nowhere near northern Ohio.
There are reasons the sched is like it is. There are advantages to promoting rivalries, and many of them are within divsion. The Yankees-Red Sox and Cubs-Cardinals are two famous examples. Even in Toronto, there is a rivalry with Boston that is lacking with say, Oakland. And it helps the teams save a bit of money and the players a little bit of fatigue by reducing travel. It’s a lot easier to get the team 180 miles from Boston to New York City than the 2600 miles from Boston to LA. Even that theory does have some flaws however- Houston is about 1900 miles from divisional cohort Seattle but only 640 upto Kansas City whom they face one-third as much.
The obvious flaw in the makeup of the season though, is its’ unfairness from unbalance. Some divisions are weaker than others, making it easier for them to win more and grab that all-important Wild Card than teams in better divisions. This year, for instance, the AL Central is already a cumulative 45 games below .500. The Indians are ahead, as predicted, but mostly from being over .600 against their divisional rivals. Against all other teams, they are 17-20. Pity the Angels, in the AL West, 24 games over .500 when put together. They’re 34-28 overall but 3 games shy of the wildcard, largely because of so many games against the solid Astros and Mariners. One wonders if they were given an AL Central schedule how far ahead they might be.
And while this inbalance varies from year to year- the AL Central isn’t always terrible, for example, but you can count on a couple of divsions to be that every year. It’s long been said the Blue Jays have an unfortunate location, with them always chasing the big money Sox and Yankees for the division, whereas Cleveland, about 50 miles west (as a crow flies) get to feast on teams like the Royals and Twins.
My proposal is to reduce the inbalance of schedule, not eliminate it. Some interleague will remain necessary because of the odd number of teams in each league. With 15 teams in each, the only way to have each playing every weekend is to have interleague (or of course, expand to 32 teams which may be a realistic idea). However, the schedule could work with fewer than 20 games per team. 14 per team would still allow full play every weekend and no doubt please most of us fans, while allowing for some of the traditional “rivalries” like the White Sox-Cubs. I’d suggest we hold our noses, have 4 “traditional rivalry” games a year and then 10 against other teams from the opposite league, which would rotate. If Toronto, for example, played the Mets, Marlins and Rockies for those 10 games this year, they wouldn’t play them again next year, and would get new opponents. This makes it a bit more fair and allows fans to see a better selection of other league’s stars, which is supposedly a main reason for the games to begin with.
Cut back the games against the divisional rivals to 12 from 19, which would leave an even 100 games to be played against the non-dvisional teams in their own league. We’d still see our own division’s teams a little more than the others (those opponents would be faced 10 times a year) but the disadvantage of being in a tough division woul diminish.
Not a perfect solution, but one that could reduce the number of complaints from fans and players alike.