On Tuesday evening, Bob Nightengale of USA Today published a report pertaining the latest information that he’s received regarding a potential start to the 2020 MLB season. The report centered around Major League Baseball eliminating the traditional American League-National League alignment, with all 30 clubs being divided into three divisions based on geographical location.
This is what that would look like.
The newest plan — of many that have surfaced during the COVID-19 pandemic — would feature the White Sox and Cubs pitted against each other in the same division for the 2020 season.
According to Nightengale, the scenario is pending the approval of medical experts and contingent on COVID-19 testing being available to the public, but is gaining steam among league executives.
Teams would play only within their division in the three 10-team division scenario, at their home ballparks, and the season would consist of 100-110 games. The plan would call for no fans in attendance initially, but leaves the possibility of a limited number of fans being in attendance during playoff games this fall open to discussion after the start of the league is evaluated.
“It’s all coming together,” one of the officials said. “I’m very optimistic.”Bob Nightengale, USA Today Sports
Among the benefits of this particular scenario, is limited travel restrictions made possible by the geographical alignment of the three divisions, the possibility for players to be near their homes and families, and of course the possibility of fans being reintroduced to the games down the line.
On a local front, Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot was cited as one official who said that teams could eventually play home games in their respective stadiums this summer, without fans and with the approval of medical experts when the time comes.
“This is going to be a season,” on of the executives said, “like we’ve never seen. But that’s fine. It’s at least a season.”Bob Nightengale, USA Today Sports
One thing that wasn’t outlined in the Nightengale story, is what a postseason would look like under the three 10-team division alignment. Before we get to that, I have to say that essentially having the American League and National League Central divisions combined — with the exception of the Pittsburgh Pirates who were placed in the ‘East’ — would be a lot of fun, at least for this summer.
Sure, there will be an insufferable demographic of White Sox and Cubs fans that will belly ache about the modified alignment to the end of the earth, but having this baseball, is better than having no baseball.
Playing meaningful games, against geographically similar franchises will be equal parts fun and competitive. Can you imagine the stretch-run — whenever that might be — featuring the White Sox and Cubs playing games in Chicago, that will impact their shot at a World Series title?
Sign me up.
As for the potential of an asterisk on anything that is produced in the way of a champion in 2020, I’d argue that the entire 2020 calendar year will go down as an “asterisk” of a year in history, so I wouldn’t place too much credibility upon that argument. This is the hand that we, on a national and global level were dealt, and what we do to overcome it, will be unique but just as meaningful as years past or future.
What would a schedule look like?
It’s impossible to know with certainty what the creators of this plan envision, but I’d imagine that each team would play at least 10 games against each division opponent. That would bring the total games played to 90 per team.
The plan calls for 100-110 regular season games, so lets say they add a trio of games on to the traditional divisional opponents for each team. For example, the White Sox would play 13 games against the Tigers, Twins, Indians, and Royals, while playing 10 games against the traditional National League foes that they’ve been grouped with in this scenario.
Similarly, the Cubs would play the extra three-game series’ against the traditional National League teams in the division, and 10 games against each the White Sox, Indians, Twins, Royals, and Tigers.
This would bring the regular season to 102 games, just 60 shy of a full-length traditional 162-game schedule.
While we don’t know how they’ll use the regular season results in regards to the postseason in this scenario, we can imagine that the schedule will need to be as balanced as possible, because seeding will likely be imperative to any modified postseason format in which you have all the teams on one side of the bracket to start, as opposed to the traditional formula where the American League and National League play on opposite sides of the bracket and meet in the World Series.
Now, let’s talk playoffs. I have two scenarios to offer, both of which would borrow from other professional sports organizations, and both would present a fair and competitive format.
Seeding Format, à la NBA/NHL
In the first scenario, at the conclusion of the regular season, the top-four teams in each division would qualify for the playoffs. The bracket would be seeded by overall record, regardless of geographical placement.
As you can see in the bracket above, the top four teams (by overall regular season record) would earn a ‘bye’ into the second round.
The remaining eight qualifying teams would play the opening round, seeded by overall record. There would be three rounds of competition, followed by the World Series. This style would reward teams for their performance during the regular season and pit them against lesser seeded teams for much of the playoffs, resulting in a more “traditional” format.
Tournament Format, à la FIFA World Cup
In this format, the regular season would serve again as a way to seed your playoff teams, but this time in a much larger 30-team bracket.
For the purpose of this exercise, I awarded the top two seeds to the Los Angeles Dodgers and New York Yankees, assuming that they will have a very good chance at having the top two records. For the remainder of the brackets I randomly assigned the teams with a focus on geographical location, because there’s just no way to predict the order they will finish in behind the Dodgers and the Yankees.
The opening round would be single elimination, leaving half of the league standing in the second round, which would be a best of three scenario. The third round would again be best of three, with round the remaining rounds being best of five series’ until a World Series Champion is crowned.
This scenario will ruffle the feathers of die-hard traditionalists, but so has being restricted to our homes for the last month-plus and counting, so what the hell.
Again, this is all very much hypothetical, but the writing on the wall is beginning to confirm a few things for us;
- There will be a 2020 MLB season
- It will be a shortened, and likely modified scheduling format.
- The postseason will be unlike anything we’ve ever seen, however it shakes out.
As I mentioned before, there’s going to be naysayers, and as consumers of a pricey hobby, we absolutely have the right to criticise and dissect any plan that they come up with. However, speaking for myself — and I’m sure many others — give me this baseball, over no baseball at all. 100 times over, in fact.