The Cubs and the 29 other MLB teams announced their 60-game schedules for this year Monday evening. Whether these games get played at all remains to be seen, but there are some interesting features to the Cubs schedule that could be part of “normal” Cubs schedules in future years. Here are those features and some other notes on the 60-game slate.
The five Friday home games are all night games
The scheduling of Friday night home games in the 60-game schedule is likely because no fans will be permitted at those games. The original reason for the ban was that area restaurant owners wanted to protect their business. Seems silly, right? I mean... Cubs fans in the area for a night game would help increase business, wouldn’t you think?
Further, the Cubs have scheduled Friday night concerts at Wrigley Field on several occasions over the last three years. There is essentially no difference between having 40,000 concert-goers in the area around the ballpark and having 40,000 baseball fans in the area. In fact, it can be argued that the baseball crowds are easier to deal with than certain concert crowds.
It is, as I have noted previously, way past time to have this anachronistic part of the night-game ordinance repealed and at the very least, permit the Cubs to play on Friday nights if they are coming off a road trip, something that happens at most two or three times a year. Hopefully, the Friday night games on this schedule will bolster the Cubs’ argument for that.
This is the first time in Cubs history they will have no Friday afternoon games scheduled. (H/T: Ed Hartig)
The home night-game starts are all at 7:15 (with two exceptions for national TV)
This would seem to be something requested by Marquee Sports Network, in order to air a pre-game show at the top of the hour. Remember that the original Cubs 2020 schedule had 6:40 starting times in April, May and September. But no 6:40 starts appear on the 60-game schedule for September 2020.
Again, this is likely because there won’t be fans in the stands. One of the reasons for the earlier starts was so that fans could get home earlier from games; many teams had already pushed some of their night-game starting times up before 7 p.m. local time for this purpose. With no fans, 7:15 likely works for people simply watching games from home.
When a “normal” season resumes, hopefully in 2021, I would expect the 6:40 starting time to be used for April, May and September night games.
All told, the Cubs are scheduled this way re: day/night games on the 60-game schedule (a night game is officially any game scheduled for 6 p.m. local time or later):
Home: 22 night, 8 day
Road: 26 night, 4 day
That’s 80 percent of games at night. In a “normal” 162-game season, most teams play 65-70 percent of their games at night, but obviously this year has special circumstances. The Cubs having 80 percent of their games at night gives them a schedule likely closer to those of their competitors.
Divisional play is unbalanced
Here’s a place where MLB could have done something different that would have reduced travel. Teams are playing 10 games against clubs in their own division. They could have scheduled those as five home, five road, and had them as five-game series, thus teams would have had to travel to each divisional city only once.
Instead, they split the divisions into two, with each club playing seven home games and three road games against two of their divisional rivals and seven road games and three home games against the other.
Thus it is that the Cubs will play seven home games against the Brewers and Cardinals and travel to those cities just once, but will have to make two trips to Cincinnati and Pittsburgh while hosting the Reds and Pirates for just one series.
This will make for more travel. For example, from August 4-13 the Cubs will travel from Chicago to St. Louis to Cleveland to Chicago and from August 23-September 4 they will travel from Chicago to Detroit to Cincinnati to Pittsburgh to Chicago — and the latter trip has two off days in the middle and they could possibly return to Chicago for those as well.
MLB seemed philosophically opposed to five-game series, which is why we got what we got. But it doesn’t cut down on travel. On the other hand, the Cubs are scheduled to travel fewer miles than any team except the Brewers in 2020:
And here's a quick breakdown of teams mileage breakdown... pic.twitter.com/jO3jQh1Co8— Daren Willman (@darenw) July 6, 2020
And try telling Red Sox fans that their 60-game schedule is “fair.” They have to play the Yankees seven times in New York and will make a five-game stop there anyway, as one of their New York trips includes a set vs. the Mets. They also make two trips to Florida and are scheduled to spend seven days there at one point, playing both the Rays and Marlins.
Whether any of this matters with no fans in the stands remains to be seen. The Cubs clearly play off the energy of full houses every day; now, the main advantage to playing at home is simply “sleeping in your own bed,” as Cubs manager David Ross said earlier this week.
Here’s an interesting visual depiction of travel for all 30 teams:
The Cubs’ opener is on ESPN, but...
At first glance, the schedule gives the Cubs a couple extra days to try to make an agreement with Marquee, with national broadcasts on ESPN (July 24) and Fox-TV (July 25). However, at this time the July 24 broadcast will be subject to blackout in the Cubs market territory.
Everything I’ve heard indicates that Marquee and Comcast, the Chicago market’s largest cable provider, will have a deal in place before games begin 17 days from now. The parties were reported to be close to an agreement when baseball was put on hiatus March 12. Of course, there was no real impetus towards a deal while there were no games. Presumably, now having a deadline for games to begin will push Comcast and Marquee to sign an agreement so that the vast majority of Cubs fans in-market (including this writer, a Comcast subscriber) can watch Cubs games.
It would be nice if Marquee would agree to have the in-market blackout lifted for the July 24 game... just in case.
So far, five of the 60 games have some sort of national TV coverage — the two above, plus August 6 at Royals (Fox-TV), August 9 at Cardinals (ESPN) and September 6 at Cardinals (ESPN). Some other weeknight games could be added by ESPN later, though those could also be subject to blackout.
Is there any competitive advantage for the Cubs playing weak teams?
The Cubs will play 18 of their 60 games against the Pirates, Royals and Tigers, all of whom are expected to be pretty bad teams. On the other hand, the Brewers and Reds will also do this. The Royals are the Cardinals’ designated “rival” team, St. Louis will play 20 games against those three. The Tigers are the Reds’ designated “rival” team, so Cincinnati also gets 20 games against weaker squads.
Advantage, Cardinals and Reds, though a small one. In the end, if this schedule does get played to its conclusion, I expect the Cubs, Brewers, Cardinals and Reds to have a pretty hard-fought race for the N.L. Central title.
According to this article in The Athletic, those four teams are among those who got the biggest break with the 60-game schedule.
If you would like a printable calendar schedule for the Cubs’ 60-game season, click here.
The schedule wraps with three against the White Sox
If we get that far, these three games could be quite meaningful for both ballclubs. The Cubs are expected to contend in the N.L. Central and the Sox are hopeful their rebuild will pay off with at least wild-card contention this year.
The teams could potentially knock each other out of postseason competition. Now that would be must-see TV.
I continue to believe that the best course of action for MLB in 2020 is to say “We tried,” and push a resumption of game action back to spring 2021. As always, we await developments.