Last week, I came across this interesting article by Mike Petriello at MLB.com. He looks into the possible effects of the upcoming balanced schedule on the postseason.
To refresh your memory, starting this year all teams will play each of the other 29 teams at least once, and visit each city in the other league once every other year. This will reduce the number of divisional games from 19 per team to 14.
Personally, I don’t like it. I’d much rather have more Cubs/Cardinals or Cubs/Brewers than a random Cubs/Rangers or Cubs/Mariners series. I get the idea — this is supposed to showcase every player in every city at least once every other year. This way, Shohei Ohtani (for example) will play against the Cubs every year, and in Wrigley every other year (presuming he stays in the American League), and showcasing stars is a good thing.
Here’s how Petriello figures it will affect NL Central teams:
In the NL Central, it’s almost identical to the AL Central. It’s not a strong division, and they were already going to play the AL West in 2023, so the trade in its in-division games for more games against the AL East (which is a bad thing) and AL Central (which is a good thing), and it’s almost something of a wash.
The Cubs might very well be the second-best team in the division right now, as they have improved and the Brewers appear to have at best stood pat, so maybe this is a good thing.
The problem I have with doing this is that we still have an odd number of teams in each league and that means interleague play every single day. It would have been better if MLB had waited until expansion to 32 teams (16-team leagues) to have a schedule like this, because with even numbers it’s much easier.
The problem with interleague play every day can be seen easily on the Cubs schedule for April 2023 (with one game in March, Opening Day March 30):
Just look at all those home games! There are 16 of them, and all but the three against the Brewers are against teams from the West divisions (Rangers, Mariners, Dodgers, Padres), all of whom make exactly one trip to Wrigley Field.
You all know what April in Chicago can look like. This, for example:
That photo is from April 2018, when the home opener against the Pirates was snowed out. As the Cubs do most years — this year is no exception — they had an off day after the home opener in 2018, so a makeup game was easy to schedule. Plus, it was against a divisional rival, and that team (back in 2018) made two more trips to Wrigley so rescheduling would have been simple even if that off day hadn’t existed.
2018, as you might remember, was a really lousy weather year in Chicago. The Cubs had nine postponements that year, including four in a single homestand in April. If you’d like to remind yourself of how bad that was, I wrote it all up here in December 2018. Some of that bad weather resulted in a scheduling crunch in August and September, when previous postponements forced the Cubs to play 46 games over a 42-day span with only three off days. They did go 27-19 over that span, not terrible, but a 29-13 run by the Brewers forced a divisional tiebreaker, which the Cubs lost, forcing them into the Wild Card game, which they also lost.
With better weather — and maybe, better scheduling? — do the Cubs avoid that nightmare schedule and win the NL Central outright in 2018? Obviously, we’ll never know, but it would have taken just ONE more win to do it.
This is the risk MLB is forcing on the Cubs in April 2023, as well as teams in other cold-weather cities such as Minneapolis, Detroit, Pittsburgh, Boston and New York. I understand why warm-weather cities and dome teams don’t want extra April games; they have trouble selling tickets to those, just as the cold-weather cities do. But for heaven’s sakes, why are the Cubs and Brewers playing in Wrigley Field for that first three-game set? Those games should be in Milwaukee. The Cubs don’t visit Milwaukee until July. How does that make any sense?
I can guarantee you the Cubs aren’t real happy with a 16-game home schedule (one-fifth of the season total) in April. All we can do now is hope for a mild, dry month, so that the Cubs don’t wind up with a) multiple postponements that they’ll have trouble making up, or b) games played in horrendous weather conditions like this 2018 game, or c) both.
Put your requests in to the weather gods now, Cubs fans. The team needs your help.