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Here’s what the MLB schedule might look like after expansion

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With expanded playoffs, winning your division will be more important, so here’s a very division-centric schedule proposal.

The Cubs calendar schedule for 1911
Photo by Transcendental Graphics/Getty Images

A couple of weeks ago, I posted this look at where and how MLB might expand after the stadium situations in Oakland and Tampa are resolved. The proposal I made resulted in some spirited and interesting discussion, so I thought today I’d take the next step and propose a possible schedule that MLB might adopt after such an expansion takes place.

First, the ground rules for this proposal.

Here’s the divisional alignment I posted in the expansion article, with one tweak:

AL East: Yankees, Red Sox, Blue Jays, Orioles
AL Central: Tigers, Guardians, White Sox, Twins
AL South: Royals, Astros, Rangers, Rays
AL West: Mariners, Athletics, Angels, Portland

NL East: Mets, Phillies, Pirates, Montreal
NL Central: Cubs, Cardinals, Brewers, Rockies
NL South: Braves, Nationals, Marlins, Reds
NL West: Dodgers, Giants, Padres, Diamondbacks

In the original article, I had the Orioles in the AL South and Rays in the AL East. I swapped them to make the divisions a bit more geographically compact — granted that you could make the argument to keep it the way I originally had it. Five of the divisions are all within one time zone and none have more than two time zones involved.

Now, let’s talk about scheduling.

It seems almost a given that once expansion happens, the 162-game schedule is going to be history. Why? Because owners want expanded playoffs, something that might happen as soon as this year in a new collective-bargaining agreement. Team owners appear willing to give up a small number of regular-season games for more postseason games, because the postseason is what brings them the real big money.

There are a number of different postseason expansion possibilities. For the purposes of this article I’m going to go with a 14-team field, which would operate under the following rules: The division winner with the best record gets a bye through the first round, which would be a best-of-three wild card series. Then, the division winner with the next best record gets to choose its opponent from among the three wild card teams from its league. The division winner with the third-best record picks from the two remaining wild cards, and the other division winner gets who’s left. The wild card round would have all games played at the division winners’ parks, and the winners of those three series plus the team that gets the bye would match up in division series, as now, and the postseason would continue in the way it does now (seven-game LCS and World Series).

The reason I went through all of this first is that having a postseason like this would require slicing some regular-season games in order to not have the World Series played in mid-November.

And so, I believe owners will do that. How many games will be cut?

The number 154 has been mentioned for the length of the schedule, because that was the number of games played by MLB teams from 1904-60 (AL, 57 seasons) and 1904-61 (NL, 58 seasons), excluding 1919, when the schedule was reduced to 140 games.

In my view, there’s no specific reason to hang on to this history. That number was logical, because it accounted for playing 22 games a year against the seven other teams in your league. Similarly, 162 was chosen after expansion because that fit nicely into playing 18 games against the other nine teams in your league. Even after divisional play began, 162 games could be divided neatly into 18 games against the other five teams in your division (90 games) and 12 against the six in the other division (72 games). In fact, MLB teams have now played 162 games longer than they played 154 — from 1961-2021 in the AL (62 seasons) and 1962-2021 in the NL (61 seasons), obviously excluding seasons with labor disputes and the 2020 pandemic season, but even in those years the original plan was to play 162.

Anyway, once expansion went beyond two divisions, things got a bit more muddled. It wasn’t as easy to split 162 games up in a 14-team league and now that we have 15-team leagues and interleague play it’s even messier. Sure, you can make 162 games fit into expanded 16-team leagues, and you can similarly make 154 games fit. But I’d think some owners will balk at giving up four home dates, five percent of their schedule.

So given the divisional split I’ve posted above — and that could be very close to the real way MLB splits up 16-team leagues — 156 games might work. Team owners are going to have to give up some home dates, so maybe they’d accept dropping three instead of four, as follows:

20 games vs. everyone in your division (60)
6 games vs. everyone else in your league (72)
3 games vs. two divisions in the other league (24)

The interleague play divisions would be rotated, similar to the way they are now. For those of you saying, “I hate interleague play and they should get rid of it!”, that’s not happening. We have now had interleague play for a quarter-century and it’s not going anywhere. Major League Baseball has essentially been one league since interleague play began in 1997, league presidents were eliminated in 1999 and the umpiring crews were merged in 2000. I would expect the universal DH to be adopted as part of the new CBA, completing the “one league” concept.

Anyway, what I’ve proposed above is a very division-centric schedule and given the importance of winning your division and especially trying to become the No. 1 seed and getting a bye past the wild card round, I think teams would want something like this. It would allow for September games to be all divisional play, when playing your three divisional rivals would be the most important. Lastly, with 96 of the 156 games all being in three-game series, it would allow common MLB off days in about two-thirds of all weeks. For example, MLB could schedule a league-wide off day on the Monday closest to July 31 each year and make that the trade deadline. Wouldn’t it be fun to have every team off on trade deadline day and have a live MLB Network show just covering that?

Lastly, a schedule like this would help reduce travel, which would be easier on players and also help reduce the league’s carbon footprint — that was covered in this recent article by Hannah Keyser at Yahoo.

Perhaps you have a different idea for a different schedule after expansion. Go for it, but know this: MLB teams are almost certain to play fewer than 162 regular-season games once expansion happens.

Poll

How many regular season games should MLB teams play after leagues expand to 16 teams each?

This poll is closed

  • 27%
    162
    (67 votes)
  • 3%
    160
    (8 votes)
  • 4%
    158
    (12 votes)
  • 28%
    156
    (71 votes)
  • 32%
    154
    (80 votes)
  • 3%
    Some other number (leave in comments)
    (8 votes)
246 votes total Vote Now

Poll

How many teams should be included in MLB’s postseason if it’s changed from the current 10 teams?

This poll is closed

  • 24%
    Fewer than 10
    (58 votes)
  • 14%
    10
    (35 votes)
  • 38%
    12
    (91 votes)
  • 12%
    14
    (30 votes)
  • 7%
    16
    (17 votes)
  • 1%
    Some other number (leave in comments)
    (4 votes)
235 votes total Vote Now