The photo above shows you the type of weather we often have in Chicago in April. Yes, snow, and it happens more frequently than anyone would want. That one’s from 2019, when the Cubs and Angels were snowed out, with the makeup game squished into an off day on the schedule in June. In April 2018, four games of a nine-game homestand were postponed due to cold, wet weather (including the home opener due to snow) and another of those nine was played in horrific conditions because it was against a team coming to Wrigley just once (Braves), the forecast for the next day was as bad if not worse and they didn’t want to have to make up two rainouts. (The next day’s game was, in fact, postponed — one of those four postponements within nine games noted above.)
Major League Baseball’s 2023 schedule says, “Hold my beer,” because this one’s got a chance to make things even worse. Last year, 14 different visiting teams played at Wrigley Field. With the new balanced schedule, 18 different teams will play the Cubs in their North Side home, with 14 of those teams coming in just once. Worse, with less divisional play, the Cubs’ N.L. Central rivals will come to Wrigley Field just twice a year instead of three times, which will make scheduling any makeup games even more problematic. This means the possibility of a) more postponements difficult to make up, or b) games played in awful weather, or c) both.
Enter the Cubs’ 2023 schedule, which begins this Thursday, March 30 with the team playing 16 of its first 25 games at Wrigley Field. You’d think that might be an advantage for the Cubs, but... not with the weather forecast the way it’s shaping up, and four of the five teams visiting Wrigley in April (Dodgers, Padres, Rangers, Mariners) all coming in just once. Even though those off days are in part placed there for rainout makeups, in practice players like to zealously guard their days off and what we wind up with are split doubleheaders, which everyone hates.
I’ve looked at all 30 teams’ schedules for their first 25 games this year, essentially four weeks’ worth of games taking us into late April. In that four-week period, most teams have three off days (the Cubs have four). I’ve divided the teams into three groups:
- Warm weather/dome teams: 14 clubs (Angels, Astros, Athletics, Blue Jays, Braves, Brewers, Diamondbacks, Dodgers, Giants, Mariners, Marlins, Padres, Rays, Rangers)
- Cold-weather teams: 12 clubs (Cubs, Guardians, Mets, Phillies, Pirates, Red Sox, Reds, Rockies, Tigers, Twins, White Sox, Yankees)
- “Mid-latitude” teams: Four clubs, where sometimes it’s warm in April but sometimes not (Cardinals, Orioles, Nationals, Royals)
Here’s the way the schedule breaks down, home/road, for each group. First, the warm-weather/dome teams:
Home/road splits, first 25 games of 2023, warm weather/dome teams
Some of this is good. The Rays and Mariners have a lot of home games in April, very helpful for the visitors. But why on Earth wouldn’t MLB have the Blue Jays play at least half their early-season games at home to take advantage of the roof? And even though the Brewers have a fairly even split of home/away games over their first 25, among their 13 away games in that span is a nine-game road trip to Arizona, San Diego and Seattle — why would you schedule that way? Why put a team that has a roof in three places that are either warm, or have a roof, in April?
Here are the cold-weather teams:
Home/road splits, first 25 games of 2023, cold-weather teams
We’ve talked about the Cubs’ ridiculous schedule quite a bit, but the Yankees’ might be even worse. Their nine road games in this span are at Baltimore, at Cleveland and at Minnesota. It’s possible the Yankees don’t warm up until April 27, when they visit the Rangers.
Of course, with the Cubs and Yankees having home-heavy schedules early, the White Sox and Mets get a break with the reverse split for teams sharing the same home city. But why wouldn’t it be all right to have both Chicago teams or both New York teams away at the same time in April, when the weather in those cities is likely to be unsuitable for baseball?
Here are the four “mid-latitude” teams:
Home/road splits, first 25 games of 2023, mid-latitude teams
Those are quite a bit more reasonable. At times, you could see playing more early games in those cities, at other times not, so having a fairly even split for those four cities is probably the right thing to do.
So how would I solve these problems? Of course, I have ideas!
First, for the issue of having the Cubs open at home in March against a team that has a stadium with a roof just 90 miles away: Don’t do it. Just don’t. What should have been done is simply to flip home series, although it would have been little bit of a weird thing to do that this year without moving any other games. The Cubs go to Milwaukee twice in 2023. The first series the Cubs play in Milwaukee is July 3-4-5-6, a four-game series, so that wouldn’t work, since the opening series at Wrigley is only three games. The other one is... the last three games of the season. That would have been an interesting flip. Doing that — without changing anything else — would have had the following effects:
- The Cubs would have opened with a six-game road trip and had their home opener Friday, April 7.
- The Brewers would have opened with a nine-game homestand. (Not seeing any problems here, yet.)
- The Cubs would have ended the season with a three-game trip to Atlanta, then returned home for a series vs. Milwaukee.
- The Brewers would have followed a seven-game road trip with a three-game series at home vs. the Cardinals, then headed to Wrigley to end the season.
This would work and not affect any other teams, and the only extra travel would be a bus ride for the Brewers to Wrigley at the end of the year and an extra bus ride for the Cubs to Milwaukee for Opening Day. A bit clunky? Sure, but it would have been better than what we have.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I absolutely do understand the reasons why the warm-weather/dome teams don’t want to be overloaded with additional games in April. They don’t sell well, for some of the same reasons they don’t in Chicago and other cold-weather cities: Kids still in school, folks not on summer vacations, etc. But in this case I think those teams have to suck it up, just a bit, at least for the first two weeks of the season and that MLB needs to play more games in those cities to help prevent chaos or playing games in awful weather conditions, especially with the new balanced schedule. If it gets bad enough, maybe MLB will revisit this for the 2024 schedule — or perhaps this can be part of a CBA negotiation next time.
I also understand the reasoning behind wanting a balanced schedule. At Rob Manfred’s Cactus League news conference, he said that some teams were asking for this to help bring big-name teams to town. I understand why, for example, the Reds might want the Yankees and Red Sox in town more often, or the Royals having the Dodgers or Cubs come to Kansas City more than once every six years.
The converse, though, is a team like the Cubs, who I’m sure would much rather have the Cardinals and Brewers in Wrigley three times a year as opposed to replacing that third visit with a random series against the Rangers or Mariners. The Cubs’ divisional rivalries draw better than those series will. Same for the Cardinals or Brewers hosting the Cubs — and what’s ESPN going to do with fewer Yankees/Red Sox games on this year’s schedule?
At some point, the regular season might be shortened by a week’s worth of games, which would help to some extent. Let’s hope that next year’s Thursday season opener isn’t on March 28, which would be the corresponding day to this year’s openers because 2024 is a leap year. Better: Start the 2024 season Thursday, April 4 (and give the Cubs a nice long opening road trip!) and end it Sunday, October 6, which would still allow the World Series to wrap up in the first week of November, which has happened before (including, of course, one memorable November Game 7 in 2016). Early November weather in northern cities is generally better than early April weather, as we had in both Chicago and Cleveland during the 2016 World Series, due to what weather folks call “seasonal lag.”
The weather in New York, Boston, Cincinnati and Chicago — the four cold-weather cities hosting Opening Weekend games — is likely to be iffy for those first few games. Average highs in those cities on March 30:
54, New York
Cincinnati’s average temp on that date is barely tolerable for Opening Day. The others: Nope.
And it’s not going to get much better after that, per these advance forecast maps:
That’s just ... not baseball weather. And it’s not unusual for this time of year. This year’s schedule reads like one spit out by a computer with no human intervention and no thoughts about bad weather and postponements. Do better, MLB.