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MLB tries to keep revised schedule as “normal” as possible

Nationals Park in Washington, DC, which will host the first game of the revised 2020 Major League Baseball season when the defending World Series champion Nationals take on the New York Yankees. (Photo by Patrick McDermott/Getty Images)

In this most unusual of Major League Baseball seasons due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the league sought to stay true to its historic norms in reconstructing the 2020 schedule.

The league on July 6 released the full schedule for the planned 60-game regular season, with the revised slate kicking off July 23 with an ESPN-televised doubleheader of the New York Yankees at the defending World Series champion Washington Nationals, followed by the San Francisco Giants visiting the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Fourteen games will follow on July 24 and a full, 15-game slate is set for July 25. The reworked schedule follows a geographically concentrated model in which individual clubs will play their four division rivals 10 times each, and then 20 total games against clubs in the opposite league’s corresponding division, in turn minimizing travel and largely keeping clubs within their own time zone. 

The regular season will end September 27, as originally planned before the pandemic, thus fitting the 60-game slate into 67 days.

Within that broad framework, however, MLB did not stray far from its decades-long schedule practices. Teams will play individual series of two to four games each, as is typical, and the interleague component of the schedule between the American and National Leagues closely resembles formats used in prior years.

And while MLB executives studied numerous schedule scenarios during weeks-long, fractious negotiations between the league and MLB Players Association, more radical notions such as individual series lasting five games or more were quickly rejected, as were other scenarios where division rivals played all their games against each other in one shot.

“There was a real effort to keep the schedule as ‘normal’ as possible,” said Chris Marinak, MLB executive vice president of strategy, technology, and innovation, and a key figure in the development of the league schedule. “We felt like we had a blueprint that’s been successfully used in the past and a foundation that’s been used for years. 

“We looked at a lot of different options. But ultimately the complications of moving to a radically different format didn’t make sense, and often introduced things that created other issues. It ended up coming down to keeping it simple,” Marinak said. 

There are, of course, still some key differences coming from the reduction of a normal 162-game schedule to 60 games. Among them is an imbalance in the home-road splits in games between division rivals.

Because of the desire to avoid atypical five-game series, which combined with required off days in the schedule could have created other problems, the 10-game divisional matchups over the course of the season will have either seven games played in one market and three in the other, or six games played in that first market and four in the second.

Without the prospect of attending fans, at least at the outset of the season, the rescheduling process also was eased as teams were not competing to be home on various key dates in an effort to maximize their respective ticket sales.

As MLB has faced the loss of more games due to Covid-19 than any other major US pro sports property, the pandemic has already claimed several key events on the sport’s 2020 calendar, including the All-Star Game that had been set for Los Angeles, California, and the MLB Little League Classic in Williamsport, Pennsylvania.

But the league is still moving forward with other special events on the schedule. The previously announced game at the Field of Dreams movie film site in Iowa will still go forward on August 13 and be televised on Fox Sports, but with the St. Louis Cardinals replacing the Yankees to serve as the opponent for the Chicago White Sox amid the new geographic concentration of play.

A rescheduled Jackie Robinson Day, honoring the late Hall of Famer’s breaking of baseball’s color line, will now be held August 28, a date also marking the anniversary of the March on Washington. The league will also honor the 100th anniversary of the Negro Leagues on August 16, and the Texas Rangers will play their first game at the newly opened Globe Life Field on July 24. 

ESPN and Fox Sports, meanwhile, also unveiled their new slates of nationally broadcast games, with the networks focused almost entirely on key divisional rivalries, most notably the perennially popular fan draw of the Yankees against the Boston Red Sox. Each network will show a pair of games between those clubs.

The 2021 MLB schedule, meanwhile, is nearly finished and will also be released soon. The midsummer completion of the following year’s schedule is in keeping with MLB’s normal timetable, and league executives were able to maintain that in recent months even as pandemic halted play on the field.