This is about when I normally would begin posting my outlook for the year ahead and predictions for standings. Normally. What a pleasantly quaint and welcoming word these days when we are left to wonder what the new “normal” is going to be… or when.
Of course, two things are obvious to the baseball fan. One is that the cancellation of half of Spring Training and the postponement of the regular season sucks. Like Mark Shapiro of the Blue Jays front office said, upon hearing of the delay of Opening Day, “I had a moment where selfishly I was pretty sad and I was like, ‘You’ve got to be kidding! There’s great things happening. I want to continue to watch these guys playing.”
Great things indeed. Toronto was sitting at 12-6 with two ties, behind only Philadelphia for the best spring record (Washington, last year’s champions were sitting at a dismal 6-11 for what its worth) and leading the Grapefruit League with 120 runs scored, or 6 per game. Their run differential was +25, behind only the Dodgers and Phillies. Last year’s Gold Glove candidate catcher who couldn’t hit, Danny Jansen, was hitting over .500 (!) and Matt Shoemaker, who was looking like an ace last year til he broke his knee in April, was looking like an ace once again. And on an on.
But Shapiro continued, “I caught myself after about 30 seconds” and that “our immediate concern should be the health and safety of our fans, players and staff.” And that’s the second thing that is obvious to us now. Something we’re all coming to realize in a time when suddenly lineups at grocery stores full of empty shelves, empty restaurants and no public entertainment events of any sort are becoming routine.
By now, it seems sadly appaent there is no way we can get in a regular 162 game season in this season. Here’s my Best Case Scenario Suggestion, based on the concept that we’ll be able to get this new virus more or less corralled and under control within weeks here, rather than months.
The CDC suggested on the weekend that all events with more than 50 people be canceled for 8 weeks. That would take us to about May 9. Theoretically, MLB could then kick off the 2020 season, if things have cleared up by then.
However, with the restrictions in place, transportation becoming iffy and spring training camps mostly been shuttered, that would mean more than that – about 9 weeks- since players last played. It would be like mid-February all over. Players would need to get in a bit of training, and then need to play a handful of games still to get back up to speed and for the GMs to assess final roster moves.
So let’s say things are fine by May 9. My suggestion of a realistic, but accelerated schedule could look like this.
May 10-11: players return to Spring training camps (Florida and Arizona locations would be best, to facilitate easy transit for training games).
May 12-16 : players work out vigorously
May 17-23: spring training games, 7 per team.
May 23: teams finalize rosters
May 24: travel day
May 25 – Memorial Day. 2020 season begins, with all teams beginning to play.
July 14 – All Star Game in LA, as scheduled, but with only 13th, 14th off (ie games begin again on 15th, not 17th).
October 15 – 128 game schedule finishes, on a Friday night.
October 16-17 – wildcard games played this weekend
October 18-23 – division series
October 25 – November 2 – championship series
November 4 – 12 – World Series. Game 7, if necessary on Thursday night.
The 128 game schedule would consist of 12 interleague games per team, 6 games against each team in their own league but not division and 14 games each against divisional rival. In addition, to accelerate the schedule, each team would host one double-header during the season, (meaning 63 home dates instead of 64) perhaps on two league-wide Fan Appreciation Days. Also, road trips/homestands would be longer… generally 9-12 games at a time, to reduce numbers of travel days off.
Is that ideal? No, far from it. A normal 162 game schedule would be close to ideal. It would be odd to have an All Star game take place when teams have only played around 40 or so games a piece. Players won’t like a number of 10-12 game road trips (though they will be balanced with home stands of the same duration); owners won’t like having even one less home gate in an already abbreviated season. Questions will need to be debated and argued no doubt, over things like players’ service time (we would hope that if the schedule is 128, players on roster would get credit for full-season after 128 games), pay and so on. a shortened playoff timeframe would mean up to World Series, most days more than one game would be going on. And even with this sched, we’re potentially seeing mid-November baseball. By mid-November, overnight lows average below freezing in Minneapolis and snow can be flying in Denver so there’s a good chance that some games in places like those, or Chicago, or Cleveland, will be played in crappy un-baseball-like weather.
Is it ideal? No. But it might be the very best we can hope for now, for 2020.